The Character of Pastor-Elders
1 Timothy 3:2-3
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. NASB
To qualify, the term elder, you understand that the Bible uses the term elder to describe a pastor or shepherd, a bishop, or an overseer.
God’s servants are to feed His people the Heavenly manna. Shall God’s servants serve His people their holy food with dirty hands? Shall his kitchen maids cook their food in unclean pots? Shall we take the choicest morsels of heavenly food and wash them in dirty water or sprinkle them with the plague?
God’s servants are to govern His household and care for His family. Shall God send a clown or a jester to show his people how to behave in decency and in order? Is the household of God a circus act, who’s caretakers are jokers and madmen?
Well of course the answer to all of these rather silly questions is emphatically NO! But they should serve to illustrate for us one great reality concerning those who will feed, care for, and instruct God’s holy people. They are NOT to be jokers and madmen, or vile and wicked, but instead holy men who represent a holy God, inasmuch as it is possible for a sinner saved by grace to walk in godliness and holiness of the truth. The man of God is to be a representative of God, in all holiness and godliness.
With this thought in mind, let us examine two aspects of the character of elders.
· The Nature of Godly Character – Part 1
· The Reason for Godly Character – Part 2
The Nature of Godly Character
When speaking of the nature of the godly character of elders, the Bible has much to say. It speaks very specifically about what godly character looks like for elders. To qualify, the term elder, you understand that the Bible uses the term elder to describe a pastor or shepherd, a bishop, or an overseer. All of these words are used to describe the same person or office, that of an elder (Acts 20:17, 28, 1 Pet 5:1-2). There are terms used to describe what the character of an elder is to be like, in what it is to consist. Paul writes in…. 1Timothy 3:2-7 …
1 Timothy 3:2-7 – 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, uncontentious, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); 6 and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. NASB
Above reproach – As you know, this is an imperative command, “must be above reproach.” This command is also repeated in 1 Tim 3:2. The man of God is not to have any reproveable or obvious sins for which charges could be laid against him. He is to keep his reputation free from accusation both within and outside of the church. In Calvin’s words, “he should not be marked by some disgrace that would lessen his authority and he should have a good and honorable reputation, and not chargeable with any remarkable vice.” MacArthur says “his life should not be marred by some obvious sinful defect in character.” This is not to say that he never sins, but that when he sins, he deals with his sin swiftly and properly. And also, that he does not indulge himself in any serious sin, for which the Law would bring serious consequences such as sexual improprieties or thefts or violence. If a man desires the honorable and noble task of being an overseer in God’s church, “he must be above reproach.”
Ephesians 5:3-4 – 3 But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; 4 and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. NASB
Brothers, if God’s Law would condemn someone to death for sexual impropriety, should it even be named in God’s church? How much more should it be entirely absent from the lives of His under-shepherds, who care for the souls of His people. Should we allow a thief to teach God’s precious children? Should we allow a violent man to tend His dear lambs? God forbid! If a man desires the honorable and noble task of being an overseer in God’s church, “he must be above reproach.”
Husband of one wife – The words here read literally “a one woman man.” This is to say, his eyes do not wander. He is given to one woman, delighting in her, as the Scripture commands, and faithfully devoted to her and her alone. He is not a flirter, or sportive towards any other women. This is more than just a sexual issue, but also one of integrity. He is devoted to one woman. This reflects the character of God which is faithfulness. What lesson does he teach the church who cannot devote himself to his own wife? The answer is that faithful devotion to Christ is not valuable, and that we can give ourselves to other Gods under every spreading tree and on every high hill. The man of God must be a “one woman man” and this must be obvious to the whole church and those outside the church.
temperate – He is not a hot head or easily angered or moved from his patience and calmness. He does not react intensely do difficult situations, but remains calm and patient and able to firmly and wisely apply God’s Word to the various difficulties which surely arise in the midst of his pastoral ministry. He will be steady in the midst of waves, and clearly focused upon God’s Word and will.
Prudent – This is to say he is self-controlled and his life is well-ordered. He is not rash or over-indulgent is decision making, but tempered, thoughtful and cautious.
Respectable – One who conducts himself with decency and propriety. His actions are proper and honorable. He lives in such a way as to gain the honor and respect of people inside and outside of the church. He is above reproach and has no obvious or remarkable sins or character flaws that would mock or diminish the glory of Christ. Shall God’s representative have the reputation of thief or a drunkard? Shall we preach Christ with our mouth and Satan with our actions? No indeed, we must be men worthy of honor and wearing the badge of honor which is a godly life and character to honor the King whom we represent. We must as Paul says, “walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory”(1 Thess 2:12). The man of God must be respectable.
Hospitable – Even as Christ welcomes sinners, the pastor must have a heart so big as to welcome men in. He must have an inviting spirit of acceptance and love, one where men feel they can unload their burden of sins. Let your demeanor be so inviting as the sinner surely senses that your God is a God of grace and compassion, who forgives sin and rebellion and wickedness. And this quality you must demonstrate with your life, in your home and in your church. Invite the stranger in, and tell him God forgives sin to those who will repent and trust in His Son.
able to teach – I will not belabor this point as it is more of an ability than a character trait. I will however say, a pastor should be “able to teach.”
not addicted to wine – The clear and obvious meaning here is that a pastor is not to be given to the excessive use of wine (or any alcohol). He is to be alert and sober at all times, and not indulging in excess. And he surely has no place as an elder if he is a drunkard and given to drunkenness. Calvin writes, “the word which is here used, the Greeks denote not merely drunkenness, but any intemperance in guzzling wine. And, indeed, to drink wine excessively is not only very unbecoming in a pastor, but commonly draws along with it many things still worse; such as quarrels, foolish attitudes, unchaste conduct, and other things which it is not necessary to describe.” The pastor is not to be drunk with wine (Eph 5:18).
not pugnacious or uncontentious – That is, he is not to be a fighter or quarrelsome, but rather patient toward others and not ready disagree or quarrel. He is never a violent man as never was our Lord. He must at all times reserve himself to a patient demeanor and seek peace when it is possible. Eeven though he must boldly preach the Word, he must avoid causing any contention with others whenever it is possible. Paul writes in….
2 Timothy 2:24-26 – 24 And the Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will. NASB
but gentle – The elder must be gentle with God’s family. Jesus uses this characteristic to speak of Himself….
Matthew 11:28-30 – 28 "Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. 29 "Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. 30 "For My yoke is easy, and My load is light." NASB
Christ is a refuge for his people, and so should en elder be for those he shepherds. He does not lay heavy loads on God’s people but he is tender toward them, and gentle, not making their life hard, but comforting them and consoling them in their trials and difficulties. Paul writes about his ministry to the Thessalonians….
1 Thessalonians 2:7-12 – 7 But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. 8 Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.
Here Paul says they “proved to be gentle among you.” That is they were indeed caring tenderly for the saints, saying, “as a mother tenderly cares for her own children.” And this tender and gentle care was motivated by what Paul calls “fond affection.” He so loved and cared for the saints as if they were his own children, and this “fond affection” caused him to not only speak the Gospel, but to offer their lives in sacrifice to them as well. He says “we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.” Paul’s gentleness toward the saints was motivated by a sincere affection and an endearing love for them.
free from the love of money – This is to say he is upright in all his dealings with money because it does not rule him, he does not “love it.” He uses it as God provides for the necessities and comforts of life, b ut it does not occupy any significant place in his affections. He doesn’t love money so as to pursue it beyond its normal intentions. Paul writes…
1 Timothy 6:10 – 10 For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many a pang. NASB
The pastor is to avoid money taking a prominent place in his affections, for this will surely cause unnecessary and painful trials or even ruin. He is to be “free from the love of money.”
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 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 pastors character must also be demonstrated through the way he manages his own household. He is to be one who is capable and responsible to handle all the affairs of his own house. He is to be diligent in overseeing its affairs so that he is a “good manager” of his children and his household. His command of his house should not be one of sternness, tyranny or severity, but one of loving care and nurture, with firm discipline and kind service. He is to be a wise manager of his own home and the fruit of this should be evident in his wife and children.
and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. – Here now is the issue of pride. The elder cannot be a proud man for pride is itself the very nature and motivator of every sin. It is the mother of Hell, said Spurgeon. It is that ugly demeanor and disposition that says to God, “I will not have you to rule over me.” This is what motivated the devil to get him thrown out of Heaven. Pride is an exaltation of self, a focus on self, and it is a dependence on self. It is the opposite of a humble and dependent trust in God. An elder cannot be a proud man for he must show God’s people what a life of humble faith and godly trust in the Lord looks like. The pastor is to be a man of humility, and his humility and gentleness should be known and seen by all.
And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil. – The pastor’s character cannot bring reproach on the church. MacArthur writes, “A man chosen to lead the church must maintain a reputation in the community for righteousness, moral character, love, kindness, generosity, and goodness. He will no doubt face antagonism when he takes a stand for God’s truth. Nevertheless, those outside the church must recognize him as a man of impeccable reputation. How can a man have an impact on his community if that community does not respect him?” It goes without saying, that if a pastor is not above reproach and that people in the community do not view him with good repute, then he brings disgrace on the cause of Christ. And this is why an overseer in God’s church, “must be above reproach.”
Brothers, before I move on, let me ask a few more questions.
God’s servants are to open their mouth and speak His Holy Word. Shall God have a wicked devil to preach His Word? And should that dark and fallen beast stand in the pulpit to speak the Holy Word, would it not be a mockery and a charade? Shall a spring of pure water run forth from a dung hill? Shall unclean lips speak the blessed and pure words of the King of Majesty and Glory?
Well of course the answer to all of these rather silly questions is emphatically NO!
But let them illustrate for us that the man of God, the pastor, elder and overseer of God’s people must be a man of impeccable character!
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