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3. Instruction Concerning Elders in the Church (Titus 1:5-9)

Obligations in Crete

1:5 The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.

Verse 5 points us to the historical background for this letter. Paul and Titus had previously visited the Island of Crete and had not only preached the gospel, but had evidently been successful in establishing house churches in the various cities. Naturally, the Christians there needed biblical mentoring in the faith as babes in Christ, so Paul, being compelled to ministry elsewhere, left Titus to accomplish this vital task. All Christians need to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus (2 Pet. 3:18), but it was especially needed because of the moral conditions that formed the background of these Cretan believers.

Crete is the fourth largest island in the Mediterranean and is located an almost equal distance from Europe, Asia, and Africa. Crete actually comprises an area of 3,200 square miles and is elongated in form—160 miles E to W and 6 to 35 miles from N to S.30 A high state of civilization once flourished there. “During the 2nd mil. B.C. Crete was the center of the famous Minoan civilization.”31 However, by New Testament times the moral condition of its inhabitants was tragic. “Their ferocity and fraud were widely attested; their falsehood was proverbial; the wine of Crete was famous, and drunkenness prevailed.”32

In keeping with the purpose of Paul’s own ministry as a bondslave and an apostle, he immediately took up the primary mission he had for Titus. As his representative and fellow bondslave, Titus was to continue the work of preaching the Word in order to promote the faith of God’s chosen ones and their knowledge of the truth (vs. 1). This mission for Titus is developed from 1:5 through 3:11 through a number of varying instructions, all of which come under the heading of “setting matters in order.”

“The reason I left you in Crete” might also be translated “for this purpose I left you in Crete.”33 This points Titus and all other readers to the purpose of the epistle and its instructions. Paul was not simply reminding Titus of his mission, but was enforcing that mission by putting a stamp of apostolic authority on the ministry of Titus among all the Christians at Crete.

“To set in order the remaining matters” describes all Titus would be doing by fulfilling the instructions that would follow throughout the letter. “The remaining matters” is literally, “the things lacking” or “the things in need” or “the defects.”34 James used this verb in James 1:5 when he wrote, “if anyone lacks or is deficient in wisdom, let him ask of God.”

But what is meant by “to set in order”? This is the verb epidiorthoo. It means “to set right, to correct in addition,” i.e., to what has already been done, and occurs only here in the New Testament. The apostle undoubtedly chose this word because it so accurately expressed what was needed, a continuation of the mentoring and growth process that Paul and Titus began while Paul was present. Titus was to continue this work because to leave them as they were would be like giving birth to a child, carrying for it a while, and then abandoning it by leaving it on someone’s doorstep. The choice of this term indicates that the work to be done among the churches was not reformation but the continual process of formation35 or transformation. Titus was responsible to carry out the mandate of promoting the process of edification as described in Ephesians 4:11-16. He was to promote the building up the body quantitatively (training and motivation for evangelism), qualitatively (spiritual growth of believers) and organically (the development of leaders and the use of the spiritual gifts of all those in the churches).

While the churches in Crete were deficient in a number of areas, the next statement, “and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you,” describes the first and most basic deficiency that needed to be dealt with, namely, the appointment of elders. This is very revealing and instructive. It shows us that a local church or congregation of believers is defective if it lacks qualified elders. The obvious reason is because God has chosen this office (elders) and their function (oversight) for the shepherding care of the flock in order to continue the process of spiritual growth. “Elders” (presbuteros) is the official designation of those who are to lead the local congregation of believers. It is synonymous with “overseers” (episkopos). The term ‘elder’ stresses the dignity of the office while ‘overseer’ stresses the function, but both terms refer to the same office. This is evident from this passage as well as Acts 20 where both terms are used of the same people. In Acts 20:17 Paul sends for those who are called the “elders of the church,” but then in verse 28 they are identified as “overseers” who were to “shepherd” (pastor) the church at Ephesus.

However, certain questions remain that are not answered here. Was Titus to appoint elders himself or was he to do this with the help of the people who knew the possible candidates better than Titus? Probably the latter. “This commission in Crete did not give Titus dictatorial power to appoint ministers. Rather, as Paul and Barnabas ordained elders (Acts 14:23) who had been chosen by the people, so Titus was to do, keeping in mind the proper qualifications.”36

Another question is how many elders were to be appointed in each church? Only the fact of a plurality is clear. A plurality of elders were to be appointed rather than just one elder for each church. While we cannot say for sure, it would seem logical that there was not more than one house church in each town. This supports the idea of a plurality of leadership in each house church. While nothing is mentioned about an exact number to be chosen (cf. Acts 6), it is certain only those who were qualified were to be appointed.

In the introductory greeting (vss. 1-4), Paul stamped his apostolic authority on this letter to Titus but now he reinforces it with the words, “as I directed you.” “Directed” is a Greek term that carries a note of authority to it.37 Acting on the fact of Paul’s authoritative instruction, Titus was now responsible to carry out those instructions in the churches of Crete. These instructions or the directives given by Paul involved the appointment of elders, but this also included the qualifications that follow in verses 6-9. The point is that churches are often ready to appoint leaders, but they may be negligent and careless about appointing men who are truly qualified according to God’s standards.

This would particularly be a problem at Crete because of the moral conditions that prevailed and so Paul’s authority (the equivalent of God’s Word for us today) was especially needed in this regard (cf. Tit. 2:15). The way our society has so rapidly degenerated in the last twenty or so years, meeting these qualification is equally important for the Christian church today. Also, the fact that none were appointed while Paul was present suggests that none were ready for leadership at that time. They needed further mentoring to prepare men spiritually for leadership. This is also desperately needed today. Churches need a plan for training men for leadership in the church.

Those men who are to serve in the office of elder must be so qualified that the flock will be willing and benefited by following their leadership. The qualities listed below and also in 1 Timothy 3 are marks of spiritual maturity. They stand as evidences of the work of the Holy Spirit and the Word in a man’s life. Not only do they ensure his ability to carry out the functions of the office, but they may also be marks of God’s selection of that man for this office (Acts 20:28).

In the final analysis, only the Holy Spirit should appoint a man to this office. The responsibility of the flock and the individual himself is to recognize God’s selection. This means the office of elder is to be an emergent leadership, one that naturally arises through the work of God; elders are not simply leaders elected or appointed by men. This is why evaluations based on the following qualifications are so important.

Qualifications for Elders (1:6-9)

1:6 An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion. 1:7 For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. 1:8 Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled. 1:9 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.

Paul’s list of the qualifications can be divided into four easy categories: a general qualification, domestic qualifications, personal qualifications, and doctrinal qualifications. Literally, the list is begun abruptly with “if anyone is blameless,…” The particle “if” does not imply doubt, but assumes there will be those who are so qualified, but the idea is that only these can be appointed. It might even be put into the form of a question. “Is anyone blameless? Then let him be appointed.”

      General Qualification (1:6a)

“Is anyone blameless?” “Blameless,” the Greek anenkletos, is literally, “without indictment or accusation, unchargeable.” He is one who has nothing that can be brought against him. This word stands at the head of the list as the general or broad quality that covers the whole of an elder’s life. Those qualifications that follow give the many details which will test his blamelessness. This is a different word from that used in 1 Timothy 3:2,38 but it is a synonym and speaks to the same issue.

Thus, as a summary statement for all that follows in the list of qualifications, Paul says an elder is to be a man who is irreproachable or above reproach (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:7). His lifestyle is such that no one can legitimately accuse him of conduct which is not befitting a mature believer and one who is a steward of God (vs. 7). However, this does not mean he is perfect or without room for improvement in any one of the areas that follow. Why? Because no one is 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 (1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1) are MARKS OF MATURITY which should characterize the qualified man. Note that these qualities may also be seen from the standpoint of a man’s fundamental relationships of life—to God, His Word, self, family, others including the outside world, and to things.

      Domestic Qualifications (1:6b)

1. “Is he the husband of one wife?” This begins Paul's explanation of what it means to be blameless. Literally, “Is he a one-woman man?” In other words, is he one who is faithful to his one wife? There is no question that this is an extremely difficult sentence and one that is fraught with emotional responses because of the various preconditioned understandings of this verse, notably, the long-standing tradition that it means married only once. Regardless of how one understands this somewhat vague statement, the fact that the apostle enumerates it as the first qualification following the general requirement of “above reproach” or “blameless” in both 1 Timothy 3 and here in Titus highlights a vital truth. A man’s marriage and his home life as a whole reveal a great deal about his character and his ability to lead the flock of God as the apostle explains in 1 Timothy 3:5, “but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”

The Bible Knowledge Commentary (BKC) has a good overview of some of the various positions taken on this clause and some that may go beyond Paul’s original intent.

Husband of but one wife, literally, a “one-woman man.” This ambiguous but important phrase is subject to several interpretations. The question is, how stringent a standard was Paul erecting for overseers? Virtually all commentators agree that this phrase prohibits both polygamy and promiscuity, which are unthinkable for spiritual leaders in the church. Many Bible students say the words a “one-woman man” are saying that the affections of an elder must be centered exclusively on his wife. Many others hold, however, that the phrase further prohibits any who have been divorced and remarried from becoming overseers. The reasoning behind this view is usually that divorce represents a failure in the home, so that even though a man may be forgiven for any sin involved, he remains permanently disqualified for leadership in the congregation (cf. vv. 4-5; 1 Cor. 9:24-27). 39

Then, the BKC discusses the stricter interpretations that seem to go beyond Paul’s intending meaning.

The most strict interpretation and the one common among the earliest commentators (second and third centuries) includes each of the above but extends the prohibition to any second marriage, even by widowers. Their argument is that in the first century second marriages were generally viewed as evidence of self-indulgence. Though Paul honored marriage, he also valued the spiritual benefits of celibacy (1 Cor. 7:37-38) even for those who had lost a mate (1 Tim. 5:3-14). Thus he considered celibacy a worthy goal for those who possessed the self-control to remain unmarried. According to this strict view Paul considered a widower’s second marriage, though by no means improper, to be evidence of a lack of the kind of self-control required of an overseer, in much the same way that a similar lack disqualified a widow from eligibility for the list of widows (5:9).40

In all, there are four major positions that deserve consideration.

First, some believe this qualification requires that overseers be married. While it is true that some false teachers were forbidding marriage in favor of celibacy (1 Tim. 4:3) and Paul urged younger widows to remarry (1 Tim. 5:14), such is not the focus of the text. The emphasis is on one, and not on having a wife. Both Paul and Timothy were unmarried and in 1 Corinthians 7:25-28 Paul points out the advantage of being single in relation to ministry. In keeping with the culture of the day where most were married, Paul is simply saying that if married, a man must be a one-woman man.

Second, this requirement prohibits polygamy. Naturally, being a one-woman man would prohibit polygamy, but was this Paul’s intent? While this rightly stresses the concept of one, polygamy was a rare feature of even the pagan societies of that day. “Polygamy was generally regarded as abhorrent and did not need to be mentioned in such a list.”41

Third, this requirement prohibits a second marriage regardless of the reason whether death or divorce. But does such a prohibition fit with Paul’s emphasis or intent here? Paul’s emphasis in this passage is not prohibitive but positive, which seems to point to a different nuance or tone in this context. This and all the qualities that follow stress the character of an elder, not his marital status. Further, if the phrase means married only once, regardless of the reason, even in the case of the death of the spouse, then this is the only qualification in the list that is an absolute. All the other qualifications are somewhat relative since no man is 100% perfect in fulfilling these qualifications. Even the most mature and godly man is going to fall short to some degree in any of these areas. Who, for instance, is perfectly temperate in all areas of his life? I see a lot of elders, deacons, and even well-known preachers who are thirty, forty, fifty pounds over weight because they are not temperate in their eating habits and disciplined in exercise. Yet, churches never think twice about selecting such a person to the office of elder or deacon. What about uncontentious? I have seen even the most gentle man become somewhat contentious at times under some situations. The point is, the requirements here are qualities that should be generally evident to a large degree in a man as evidences of mature spiritual character. Finally, if Paul meant to make it clear that he meant married only once in a lifetime, then something like “having one wife only” (escon mias gunaikos mones) would have made the issue a lot clearer and removed any ambiguity.

Fourth, this qualification is a positive requirement for faithfulness in marriage. If the qualification in question means “a one-woman man,”42 one who has shown and demonstrated constant faithfulness and who has eyes only for his wife, then this too falls in line with the other qualifications from the standpoint of those qualities for which there will always room for growth. But if it is taken in the absolute sense of “married only once,” then it stands alone as the only absolute qualification listed. Maybe that’s okay, but this is something that should be considered when wrestling with this passage.

It follows that within Paul’s holistic outlook, which brings together personal and domestic qualities, it is far more likely that he would stress fidelity in marriage. So the point of the phrase is probably not how often one can be married, nor precisely what constitutes a legitimate marriage (that the marriage of the candidate is legitimate is assumed), but rather how one conducts oneself in one’s marriage.43

Glasscock has an excellent summary of the primary point and focus of this debated sentence.

As one considers the many facets of the arguments related to the phrase “one-woman man,” it must be admitted that there is no simple absolute answer. One may assume Paul meant to prohibit divorced and remarried men from serving as elders, but one should honestly admit that Paul did not say “he cannot have been previously married” or “he cannot have been divorced.” What he did say is that he must be a one-wife husband or a one-woman type of man. Paul was clearly concerned with one’s character when a man is being considered for this high office; Paul was not calling into review such a person’s preconversion life.

If God forgives sin and cleanses and restores lost sinners, if a believer is made new in Christ, then is this not what the church should stand for? This writer knows that emotions run high on this issue and there is no desire to stir up hard feelings with those who may differ with the views presented here. It is only hoped that each reader will be challenged to consider prayerfully the facts of this phrase, mia'" gunaikoV" a[ndra.44

2. “With faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion.” There are two issues that confront us here: the meaning of “faithful” (should it be understood as “believing”?) and the length of time elders are held accountable for the behavior of their children (only while at home or even when they become adults?).

“Faithful” is pista from pistos, which may have a passive meaning (“trustworthy, faithful, dependable”) and an active meaning (“believing, trusting”). So is Paul saying elders must have children who believe or who are faithful? Two things suggest the latter. First, the parallel with 1 Timothy 3:4 (“keeping his children in control”) and the clause that immediately follows (“who cannot be charged with dissipation…”) argue for the meaning of “faithful.” Thus, their children must not be chargeable as guilty of “dissipation,” which refers to a wild, self-indulgent, and wasteful manner of life. Nor must they be guilty of “rebellion,” wherein they refuse to submit to parental authority. A man’s inability to train and govern his children naturally brings into question his ability to train and lead the flock of God.

Further, while parents can keep their children under control through loving discipline and may prayerfully seek to bring them to Christ, becoming believers is, in the final analysis, something only the Spirit of God can do. Though parents can have the greatest influence and impact in leading their children to Christ, they cannot force their children to believe. This is a matter for the Spirit of God.

But for how long are elders to be held responsible? “Having children” seems to view sons and daughters in relation to an elder’s household and, therefore, still under his roof as dependents.

The instruction, therefore, restricts the elder’s accountability to children who are not yet adults.… Nevertheless, it is reasonable to think that the attitudes and behavior of children still within the household provide an indication of the faithfulness of an elder in parenting. But while this formative influence is meant to prepare children for godly adult lives, it does not constitute a guarantee such that elders ought to be made responsible for the directions that their grown children might choose to take.45

The Proverb (22:6), “train up a child in his way he should go and when he is old, he will not turn from it,” gives us a universal and general principle of life that will normally occur when parents apply themselves to the spiritual development of their children, but it is not a guarantee that children will always turn out as desired. Some children will occasionally refuse the best of parental leadership and will turn from their godly heritage later in life.46 Therefore, if it is known that a man applied himself diligently to bringing up his children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, what one of his children does after leaving home should not become a reason to keep him from leadership or a reason to remove him from this role.

      Personal Qualifications (1:7-8)

1:7 For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. 1:8 Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled.

Three interesting observations should be noted here. First, before the list of qualifications are continued, verse 7 inserts a sentence that serves both as an explanation for what has preceded and for what follows. Literally, “for it is necessary that the overseer be blameless.” The apostle inserts the verb dei, “it is necessary, one must” to introduce this explanation. “Dei” denotes logical necessity or a moral restraint that arises from a divine appointment. Thus, the apostle adds, “as one entrusted (literally, “as a steward of God”) with God’s work.” “Entrusted” is oikonomos, which refers to one who has been entrusted with the management of a household. “The word emphasizes the commitment of a task to someone and the responsibility involved. It is a metaphor drawn from contemporary life and pictures the manager of a household or estate.”47 The word strongly portrays the ideas of appointment and accountability and privilege as one who dispenses God’s goods and blessings to others (see 1 Cor. 4:1).

The second observation is the switch from the term elder to that of overseer. “Overseer” is episkopos, “a superintendent, guardian, overseer.” Clearly, the apostle is talking about the same office, but now moves to this term because it stresses the work or function of elders.48 While there is dignity and honor in the office of elder as appointed leaders of God’s flock (1 Pet. 5:2), the focus is on their work of oversight for which certain qualities of maturity are vital to one’s ability to be an effective steward.

The third observation is how the personal qualifications fall into the negative, what the elder must not do, and the positive, what he should be doing. The Christian life under the power of the Holy Spirit is not simply a matter of negatives, but of the positive—fruitful ministry to others.

    The Negative Qualifications (1:7)

1:7 For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain.

1. “Not arrogant.” “Arrogant” is authades, from autos, “self” and hedomai, “enjoy oneself, take one’s pleasure.” Our word hedonism comes from this Greek word. So, authades came to mean “self-pleasing, self-willed, obstinate in one’s own opinion,” and thus “arrogant, refusing to listen to others.” Clearly, the key idea of this word is “self-centeredness.” It profiles a man who, in his desire to please himself for whatever reason (poor self-concept, fear of rejection, personal agendas, etc.), becomes his own authority. This kind of person can neutralize the unity and effectiveness of a board of elders.

Have you ever met a person who always has to have his own way? Whether it is a family matter, a church matter, or a business matter? This kind of person is seldom willing to give up his own desires for the sake of the group. And when he does succumb, he does so grudgingly. “Okay,” he says, “but it is not the best way to do it, or the best place to go, or the best idea.” “…In short, a self-willed man builds the world around himself. He is self-centered and wants to “do as he pleases” (Beck).49

2. “Not prone to anger.” “Prone to anger” is orgilos, “quick tempered, inclined to anger.” This word appears only here in the New Testament though its cognates, the noun orge and the verb orgizo, occur often. This issue here is not the presence of anger for there are times when we ought to be angry (Eph. 4:26). Rather, this is describing the man who has a “short fuse” and it is a condition that is certainly related to being also self-willed. When is anger sinful? It is sinful when it occurs for the wrong reasons, when it rises too quickly, and when it explodes in uncontrollable behavior. We are not simply to count to ten and then let it fly. A man who is prone to anger is a walking time bomb just waiting to explode.

3. “Not a drunkard.” “A drunkard” is paroinos, “addicted to wine, given to drink, a heavy drinker.” It is derived from para, “along side” and oinos, “wine.” It refers to one who sits long at his wine and becomes intoxicated and under its control rather than that of the Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18). This is not the place due to time and space to deal with the issue of whether or not Christians should drink alcoholic beverages, but a few observations are in order. First, Paul does not forbid the use of wine or teach total abstinence. He even told Timothy to take a little wine for health reasons (1 Tim. 5:23). But second, in other places he warns about the misuse of a believer’s freedom in such matters. In other words, there are times when it is good not to eat meat or drink wine, or do anything that might cause another believer to stumble (Rom. 14:21; 1 Cor. 8:9-13). There are times when other principles demand that believers forgo their liberty like the laws of love, self control, and profitability (see 1 Cor. 6:23; 10:23f; Rom. 13:9-10; 14:15, 19, 21; 15:1f). Third, when Scripture speaks on the issue of drinking wine or strong drink, it often comes in the form of a warning (see Prov. 20:1; 23:19-21, 29-30; Isa. 5:22; Rom. 13:13; Eph. 5:18). Finally, being addicted to wine is just one of the many escape mechanisms people use to deal with their problems or their unhappiness or pain.

19 Listen, my son, and be wise, And direct your heart in the way. 20 Do not be with heavy drinkers of wine, Or with gluttonous eaters of meat; 21 For the heavy drinker and the glutton will come to poverty, And drowsiness will clothe a man with rags (Prov. 23:20, NASB).

Commenting on this verse, Gene Getz writes:

You see, overeating is just as sinful as overdrinking. This is probably the great American sin—including many Christians. In fact, some Christians who would never take a drop of wine overeat with every degree of regularity. In this case, who is sinning?

A Christian is to do nothing that would harm his body or make himself an ineffective instrument for Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Whether it is drink, food, tobacco, money, or just plain laziness, in no way is a Christian to allow himself to be controlled. Thus Paul says, “Whether then you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).50

4. “Not violent.” “Violent” is plektes, “a striker, fighter” from plesso, “to strike, smite.” It refers to one who is quick with his fists or prone to strike an opponent, or to one who is prone to violence. This term looks at anger which is totally out of control and goes beyond verbal abuse to physical abuse. Paul uses this term here and in the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3 immediately after “not addicted to wine.” There is a natural and obvious connection, but why would the apostle have to mention such a negative issue for Christians for whom such is so obviously out of character? The answer lies in the reality of life and of the fact many Christians are people who are saved out of pagan cultures whose lifestyle is totally contrary to Christ-like behavior. Further, spiritual growth and transformation usually require time. Old habits of thinking and acting and responding to life often die hard. Thus, Scripture calls upon the Christian to put off the old way of life and to put on the new (Eph. 4:17ff; Col. 3:1-14). For two biblical illustrations compare Moses (Ex. 32:19; Acts 7:20-29) and Peter (John 18:1-27).

5. “Not greedy for gain.” The Greek term here is aischrokerdes from aschros, “base, shameful,” and kerdos, “gain.” Aischrokerdes means “greedy or fond of dishonest gain” or simply “greedy for gain.” With reference to the false teachers, it would mean adopting a form of teaching for the purpose of material gain. In general, it would refer to engaging in any kind of business that would discredit the name of Christ or having false priorities that put personal business ahead of the kingdom of God (see Matt. 6:19-33). In 1 Timothy 3, Paul teaches us that elders, as examples for others, are “to be free from the love of money.” Making money and having money is not evil; it is the love of it that leads to trouble and plunges people into all kinds of ruin and destruction “for it is the love of money that is the root of all kinds of evil…” (see 1 Tim. 6:9-10). Men who love money are always more concerned for laying up treasures on earth than in laying up treasures in heaven and in working for the kingdom of God.

    The Positive Qualifications (1:8)

8 Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled.

Immediately after the negative qualifications, Paul moves to six positive qualities needed in the life of an elder/overseer. As mentioned, the Christian life is never just a matter of the negative or of putting off patterns of living. In fact, essential to effectively putting off the negative is positive replacement, of putting on that which is nothing less the character of the Lord Jesus which enables us to make no provision for the flesh and its appetites (see Rom. 13:14).

1. “Hospitable.” “Hospitable” is philoxenos, literally, “loving strangers, hospitable.” This quality of Christian behavior is mentioned in Romans 12:13, Hebrews 13:2 (philoxenia) and in 1 Timothy 3:2; here, and 1 Peter 4:9. As the Greek words suggest and the context of Romans 12:9-13 and 1 Peter 4:8-9 demonstrate, showing hospitality is not just a Christian responsibility, but an act of Christian love. The elder/overseer is one who willingly opens his home to the needy whether strangers or members of the body of Christ.

… The conditions of the times made such hospitality on the part of Christians very important. Believers in their travels could not resort to the homes of heathen or to public inns without being exposed to insult and danger. It was important that fellow believers offer them hospitality on their way. It was further necessary because Christian were often persecuted and rendered homeless.…51

Cultures vary and societies change, but there are always ample needs and opportunity for the body of Christ to demonstrate hospitality.

2. “Devoted to what is good.” The Greek term here is philagathos, “loving what is good.” Elders are to be those who are “devoted to that which is good or beneficial, whether in men, deeds, or things.”52 Again we see how the motif of good works in this epistle manifests itself. The motivation and means for desiring and doing good come from the Scripture and from the ministry of the Spirit through spiritual growth.

3. “Sensible.” “Sensible” is sophron, “of sound mind, sane, sensible, thoughtful,” or “self-controlled, sober-minded.” In view of the sixth quality, “self-control,” Paul undoubtedly had in mind the idea of being thoughtful or sensible in a manner that is in keeping with the truth of Scripture. Soundness of mind or sound-mind thinking comes from knowing and living in the light of the Word of God. This affects values, attitudes, pursuits, and brings self-control through the Spirit.

4. “Upright.” “Upright” and the word that follows, “devout,” should probably be linked or viewed together much like fruit to the root. “Upright” is the dikaios, “just, right, righteous,” but as used in the New Testament, especially of behavior that corresponds to God’s standards of what is right in all dealings of life, especially with people. It is used variously and the context must determine the exact use. It may refer to one who is justified by faith (Rom. 1:17), but it often, as here, refers to practical righteousness or upright behavior. An elder/overseer must be one whose conduct conforms to the righteous directives of God’s truth.

5. “Devout.” This is hosios, “devout, pious, holy, pleasing to God.” It is a rare word occurring only eight times in the New Testament, five of which are quotations. It means unpolluted and this is best demonstrated in 1 Timothy 2:8, “lifting up holy hands without anger or dispute.” “Without anger and dispute” modify “holy hands.” What are holy hands? They are hands that have not been polluted by anger and dispute. Thus, when used of the believer, hosios seems to refer to progressive and personal holiness or sanctification through intimate fellowship with God. As such, it forms the root of the previous word. Godliness (or right relations and intimacy with God) is always the true source of righteousness or upright behavior.

6. “Self-controlled.” This is enkrates from kratos, “power, strength, might.” Thus, enkrates means “strong, powerful” and then “master of” and finally “self-controlled, exercising self-control or mastery over oneself.” It refers to the strength needed to hold the passions in restraint. This is one of the qualities of the fruit of the Spirit and is to be the result of the Spirit-controlled walk. In essence, then, self-control is really the self-life under the control of the Holy Spirit and fortified through a Word filled life as the next section will demonstrate.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (the noun enkrateia from enkrates). Against such things there is no law (Gal. 5:22-23)

      Doctrinal Qualifications (1:9)
    The Responsibility

9a He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught (or holding firmly to).

While many translations translate this sentence as a command (NET, NIV, NRSV), others follow the more literal translation with something like “holding fast the faithful word” (NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASV). “Holding fast” is a present middle participle antechomenon of the verb antecho, “to hold against,” or “to withstand.” In the middle voice, as here, “to hold firmly to, cleave to.” In classical Greek, the middle meant “to hold out against.”53 While the participle may function independently as an imperative as translated by the NET Bible and the NIV, it could be dependent and related in sense to the verb of verse seven, “the overseer must be,” and the negative and positive responsibilities expressed in verses 7 and 8. If this is correct, then it not only points to another responsibility, but one that becomes part of the means or the atmosphere that is so vital to meeting the previous requirements.

In view of the false teachers mentioned in verse 10 and the basically hostile world in which the believer lives, there may be a faint idea of “holding out against something hostile or opposing in the use of the verb antecho.”54 Further, the use of the middle voice here emphasizes the subject’s personal participation or involvement in holding fast to the faithful message as one who stands as a protector of the sheep against the wolves that would ravage them (see Acts 20:28-29).

But what is meant by “to hold fast”? It means to study, know, live by the Bible as God’s faithful message to His people and to defend it against the many attacks that have and will be waged against the Bible as God’s special revelation to man.

What the elder is to cling to is described in a two-fold way. It is (1) “the faithful message or word” (2) “as it has been taught.” “Faithful” means reliable, trustworthy. But literally, to demonstrate the emphasis of the Greek, the text reads, “the, according to the teaching, faithful message.” “According to the teaching” is a clear reference to the apostolic tradition of doctrine handed down to the church, now in the completed cannon of Scripture. The text, however, stresses that for the message to be faithful or reliable, it must be according to the apostolic tradition of the faith (cf. Jude 1:3-4 and 2 Thess. 3:6 with Col. 2:8). The point is clear: elder/overseers must be men of the Book as the inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word of God.

    The Reason or Purpose

9b …so that he will be able (1) to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and (2) correct those who speak against it.

While holding fast to the Word provides an atmosphere that is vital to being faithful to the needed qualifications, Paul now points us to the reason. As overseers, elders must be able to perform two duties, both of which come through a strong working knowledge of the Word. Literally, the Greek says, “both to exhort … and to refute.” The word “both” highlights the fact that elders need the ability for both duties described here.

1. “To give exhortation in such healthy teaching.” First, he is to be able “to give exhortation.” “Exhortation” is parakaleo, “to encourage, exhort, comfort.” Depending on the context, this frequent New Testament word may have a prospective appeal in the sense of “obey, respond,” or retrospective appeal in the sense of “comfort, encourage.” Christians need both. The emphasis here is that exhorting to a particular line of conduct in keeping with the Word. “In such healthy teaching” points us to the sphere in which the exhortation is to occur. “Healthy” is hugiaino, “to be healthy, sound.” It is used of physical health (cf. Luke 5:31), but it is used over and over again in the pastorals of sound doctrine or words of the faith (cf. 1 Tim. 1:10; 6:3; 2 Tim. 1:13; 4:3; Tit. 1:9, 13; 2:1, 2, 8). This description stands in stark contrast to the sickly and degenerate teaching of the false teachers.

2. “And correct those who speak against it.” “Correct” is elencho, “to bring to the light, expose,” or “to convince, convict,” or “reprove, rebuke.” “It is so to rebuke another, with such effectual wielding of the victorious arms of the truth, as to bring him, if not always to a confession, yet at least to a conviction, of sin.”55

He must “refute” them by exposing their error and trying to convince them that they are wrong. Christian truth needs not only defense against attacks, but also clear exposition. Effective presentation of the truth is a powerful antidote to error.56

“Who speak against it” calls attention to the reality that there are always those to speak against and stand opposed to the sound teaching of Scripture. The church needs leaders who are able not only to teach, but to defend the truth of Scripture against the onslaughts against it. Too often, we have surrendered by default. Too often, Christians simply know neither what they believe nor why they believe it. The apostle Peter tells us to be “ready to make a defense57 to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Speaking of the relativity of our day and how religion has been divorced from the facts of evidence, Erwin Lutzer warns us with the following insightful words.

Obviously, dark days lie ahead for the believing church since Christianity is no longer providing the consensus for our society. The freedoms Christianity brought to us are being destroyed before our eyes. We are living at a time when humanistic thinking is coming to its natural conclusions in morals, education, and law. If we are to withstand the onslaught, we must be convinced in our own minds that we have a message from God, a sure word that “shines in a dark place.” As Francis Schaeffer told us, only a strong view of Scripture can withstand the powerful pressure of relativistic thinking.

Many of us were born into a culture where the Bible was at least respected, if not believed and practiced. Even those who did accept the Bible acknowledged that whether the Bible was the Word of God mattered, because truth mattered. Truth, it was believed, was not something that arises within us, but rather something that has to be discovered by rational debate and evidence.

Today, all of this is lost. Almost no one asks whether a belief is true; the question is whether it is “meaningful to me.” Thus, we have a blizzard of conflicting claims, and millions of people have no desire to sort the true from the false, facts from fiction. We have gone from the belief that everyone has a right to his own opinion, to the absurd notion that every opinion is equally “right.” Spirituality is a private matter; beliefs are accepted or rejected to suit one’s fancy.

When the Bible, which is rooted in the soil of history and logic, is either rejected or reinterpreted to fit any belief, everyone is on his own to guess at the answer for ultimate questions. Since there is no umpire to judge various belief systems, the game of life is played with every participant creating his own rules. As a result, the Christian church is floundering, looking for an answer to today’s spiritual and moral malaise. When we tell people we must return to the Bible, we often are pitied, looked upon as sincere but naive souls whom time has passed by.58

The thinking that all is relative and whatever seems right to you is okay, which is so much a part of the New Age nonsense of our day, is the kind of sick doctrine the church and its leaders must be able to refute with sound doctrine while resting in the sovereign work and convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit and remembering that our faith rests on solid and demonstrable historical evidence.

30 Charles F. Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia (Moody Press, Chicago, 1975), electronic media.

31 Pfeiffer, Wycliffe Bible Encyclopedia, electronic media.

32 D. Edmond Hiebert, Titus and Philemon (Moody Press, Chicago, 1957), 29.

33 “For this reason” translates the Greek toutou charin. Charin may point to the goal or purpose as well as the reason (Walter Bauer, F. Wilbur Gingrich, and Frederick W Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979), electronic media).

34 The verb is leipo, transitive, “to leave, leave behind,” or intransitive, “to be lacking, be in need, defective, or insufficient.”

35 Gordan D. Fee, New International Biblical Commentary, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody, Mass., 1984, 1988), 172.

36 Everett F. Harrison, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, New Testament (Moody Press, Chicago, 1962), electronic media.

37 The verb is diatasso, “to give orders or instructions, command, arrange, ordain, direct.” For its authoritative element and use in the New Testament, compare Matthew 11:1; Luke 3:13; 17:9-10; Acts 7:44; 1 Corinthians 7:17; 9:14.

38 In 1 Timothy 3:2, Paul uses anepilemptos, “not able to be taken hold of, irreproachable.”

39 John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck, editors, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Victor Books, Wheaton, 1983, 1985), electronic media.

40 Walvoord & Zuck, electronic media.

41 Philip H. Towner, 1-2 Timothy & Titus, The IVP New Testament Commentary Series, series ed., Grant R. Osborne, consulting ed., D. Stuart Briscoe, Haddon Robinson (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1994), 84.

42 Literally, the Greek has, “a man of one wife” (mias gunaikos aner). “Of one wife” (mias gunaikos) are genitives which describe “man” (aner). It is best to understand them as attributive genitives, that is, as genitives that describe an innate quality to the noun “man.” As Wallace explains, “It is similar to a simple adjective in its semantic force, though more emphatic: it ‘expresses quality like an adjective indeed, but with more sharpness and distinctness’ (Robertson, Grammar, 496). The category is very common in the NT, largely due to the Semitic mindset of most of its authors” (Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics—Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament [Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1996], electronic media). Such genitives usually follow the noun, but when they precede it, as here, there is an emphasis on quality (cf. A. T. Robertson, A Grammar of the Greek New Testament in the Light of Historical Research [Broadman Press, Nashville, 1934], 496). This is even more evidence for this qualitative use of the genitives here. Thus, the translation, “a one-woman man,” captures the point nicely.

43 Towner, 85.

44 Ed Glasscock, “The Husband of One Wife Requirement in 1 Timothy 3:2,” Bibliotheca Sacra (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Theological Seminary), Vol. 140, #559, July 83, 256-257.

45 Towner, 227.

46 The universal moral statements of proverbial literature do not present moral absolutes that always occur under all conditions. For instance, they may be limited to: only a certain tendency of some thing(s) to produce a certain effect (e.g., Prov. 15:1, “a gentle answer turns away wrath”—though there are times when it may have no effect on wicked men). Or, they may only tell what generally or often takes place without making it an irreversible rule for any and all conditions. Proverbs 22:6 falls into this category (see Walter C. Kaiser, Jr. The Uses of the Old Testament in the New [Moody Press, Chicago, 1985], 199-200).

47 Fritz Rienecker, A Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament, ed. Cleon Rogers (Regency Reference Library, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976, 1980), 651-652.

48 For more on the office of elders, see the author’s study, A Biblical Philosophy of Ministry and Bob Deffinbaugh’s series, The Measure of a New Testament Church and What Is a New Testament Church. All these may be found in the Theology / Ecclesiology section of the web site at

49 Gene A. Getz, The Measure of A Man (Regal Books, Glendale California, 1974), 92.

50 Getz, 87.

51 Hiebert, 34.

52 Hiebert, 35.

53 G. Abbott-Smith, A Manual Greek Lexicon of the New Testament (T. & T. Clark, Edinburgh, 1973), 40.

54 Fritz Rienecker, 652.

55 Richard Chenevix Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament (James Clarke & Co., London, 1961 ed.), 12-13.

56 Frank E. Gaebelein, General Editor, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, New Testament (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1976-1992), electronic media.

57 “Defense” is apologia, a word from which we get our term, “apologetics.” It means “a verbal reply or defense.”

58 Erwin W. Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust the Bible (Moody Press, Chicago, 1998), 10-11. This excellent book by Lutzer is the kind of book believers, especially leaders, need to be reading and studying. Here are some other excellent books along this line: Josh McDowell’s Answers to Tough Questions Skeptics Ask About the Christian Faith (Living Books, Tyndale, Wheaton), Evidence That Demands A Verdict, Historical Evidences for the Christian Faith, Revised Edition (Here’s Life Publishers, San Bernardino), Cliffe Knechtle, Give Me an Answer That Satisfies My Heart & Mind, Answers to Your Tough Questions About Christianity (InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, 1986), and Lee Strobel’s The Case for Christ (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1998).

Related Topics: Issues in Church Leadership/Ministry, Leadership

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