1 Timothy 3:1-7 - Shepherd the Church (Rev. Erik Veerman)
Shepherd the Church
This morning and next Sunday, we are taking a brief break from our Zechariah study.
Instead, we are going to consider the two main church leadership roles established in Scripture – the elder and the deacon. Sometimes we call those “offices.” The office of elder and the office of deacon. Men who serve are called officers. That is just the traditional way to describe the official title and role.
The reason we’re taking a break from our regular series is that next month, we’ll be opening nominations for elders and deacons. Since this will be the first time for nominations and elections, we wanted to be really clear about what Scripture teaches about elders and deacons. And so, we thought it best to have 2 sermons in preparation for the nominations.
We’ll be using the book of 1 Timothy. 1 Timothy was written by the apostle Paul to Timothy. Timothy was being discipled by Paul. Timothy was a pastor. Paul was giving him guidance about the church, including guidance on elders and deacons. I’ll be focusing on chapter 3 verses 1-7 this morning on elders. Next week Jeff Chinery will be focusing on verses 8-13 on deacons. Both sermons will be a little more topical in nature. Our goal is to highlight the qualifications and responsibilities of each role.
So, this morning, the elder.
Turn in your Bibles to 1 Timothy 3. You’ll find that on page 1178 in the church Bibles
Reading of 1 Timothy 3:1-7
Over the last few months, we’ve found out that there is a seemingly endless to-do list in order to become a self-sufficient established church. Just ask Mary Fraser.
It includes incorporating, establishing financials like bookkeeping, bill-pay, bank accounts, payroll, benefits, and online giving systems. Putting in writing different kinds of policies and procedures to protect the church; setting up platforms for church management, and communicating, and document management and file sharing. Then there’s the bylaws, incorporating, getting our official 501c3 non-profit status, EIN number, call packages, and other things I have never heard of before...
And that’s just the organizational side. On the church process side, it involves some of the things you’ve been hearing about – official church meetings, new membership, elections, petitions, and a worship service with charges and vows which make it all official.
Needless to say, it's been a lot to figure out! Thankfully we have some great help and are moving in the right direction with those things.
With all of that in mind… the myriad of administration and church related steps to do, there’s one step, one part of the process that is far more important than all the rest. I would put it so strongly as to say it this way: the life and spiritual vitality of the church depends on it.
•No, it’s not making sure we can receive tithes and gifts so we can be financially stable, nor is it that you and I can get our charitable tax write-off with the government.
•It’s also not having a cool app for communication and community. No, that’s not the thing that’s vitally important.
•Neither is the most important thing safety procedures for emergencies or for the protection of our children.
Don’t get me wrong, those things matter. Those are in process.
No, the one thing that is critical, that rises way above the other tasks for a new church – and really for any church – is the selection of church officers. Elders and deacons. Elders who shepherd our souls and deacons who care for our needs.
Churches live and die by the faithfulness of their spiritual leadership.
In the book of Revelation, chapters 2 and 3, several churches are evaluated based on their faithfulness to the Gospel and their faithfulness to carry out Scripture’s call to the church. For the ones that are failing… God threatens to take away their lampstand. Their lampstand it the Gospel light which the Holy Spirit illuminates through them. In fact, in Zechariah chapter 4, we’ll be spending time considering the significance of the lampstand.
The point is, for churches that fall away from Biblically faithful beliefs and lives, God removes his blessing and Spirit. They become spiritually starved. And over and over in the scriptures, it’s the shepherd leaders of the church who lead churches astray.
On the contrary, God blesses churches that faithfully pursue him and his Word in their worship, discipleship, and ministry. Spiritual fruit grows and flourishes. It’s not about numbers, it’s about spiritual vitality and spiritual growth. And it’s the spiritual leaders of the church who set the tone and lead by example.
So, what does a faithful leader look like? What qualities and characteristics does he possesses? What role is he fulfilling? Our goal this Sunday and next is to answer those questions.
This morning - the elder. If you look at verse 2 of 1 Timothy 3, you will see the word “overseer.” In the Greek, the word is episkopos. It where the word Episcopal or bishop comes from. In multiple places in the New Testament, that word episkopos is used synonymously with the word presbuteros, which is the word for elder. The word Presbyterian comes from the word presbuteros.
When we say we are a Presbyterian church, we are saying that we are elder led. One place the words episkopos and presbuteros are used interchangeably is in Acts chapter 20. That’s when Paul was speaking to the Ephesian Elders. Those words are also used interchangeably in Titus chapter 1. In the chapter today, 1 Timothy 3, the word overseer is used. But chapters 4 and 5 of 1 Timothy, they reference back to an overseer but use the word elder.
The bottom line is this: we believe that the role of elder and overseer is the same.
The Character of an Elder
And that brings us to a very important question. Who is qualified to be an elder? What should his life look like? That is where we need to begin. Because that is where the Scriptures begin.
Did you notice here in these verses, it’s mostly not about the role of an elder. The role is important and we’ll get to that next. It’s about his life. This is not the only passage of Scripture that talks about the qualifications of elders. You can also find that teaching in the book of Titus chapter 1. And guess what? It’s very similar. It’s about an elder’s integrity - how he lives out God’s Word in his life and interactions and as he serves the church.
In one sense, you have experienced this here in our church plant. We have Godly men spiritually leading our congregation. You know them well – Tim, David, Chuck, and Jeff. They are all involved in today’s service. And let me say, and you know this, too, we have been blessed by them. Many church plants don’t have elders like our elders. I don’t mean that to be negative about other elders, rather to be positive about our elders. Furthermore, in many church plants, the elders who oversee a church plant don’t even attend the church plant. We have been overwhelmingly blessed to have these dear brothers to shepherd our souls.
Before we look specifically at the elder qualifications of 1 Timothy 3. It’s important for me to note one thing up-front: we believe the Scriptures clearly teach that officers in a church are to be men.
•Besides the description in these verses and other verses about male leadership, all the New Testament examples of spiritual leaders in the church are men. That includes elders but also the disciples and apostles.
•That is not popular position to take in our culture today, as you know. That’s even an understatement. When we were planting, I posted in one of Tucker’s Facebook groups about our new church plant. Someone responded negatively pointing to our view of ordained male leadership. I responded offering to introduce the person to any of our women who serve or lead different ministry teams in our church. As you know, we are blessed by many of you, our women, who serve with the various gifts and talents that the Lord has given you that build up the church. The person who posted never responded to my offer.
Let me leave it at that for now. But if you have questions or want to talk through where else the Scriptures teach this or how we believe is should be applied in the church, I would be glad to sit down and talk through it.
Ok, back to 1 Timothy chapter 3. The apostle Paul in his letter to Timothy, gets very specific on the characteristics of an elder.
Notice verse 2 gives us the qualities that an elder should possess. Verse 3, on the other hand, gives us qualities that an elder should not possess. Notice the word “not” used over and over in verse 3.
On the positive side, he is to be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, and hospitable.” We’re going to come back later to the phrase “able to teach.” Overall, a word that summarizes much of this is the word integrity. An elder seeks to live out in all areas of his life what God’s Word teaches.
He seeks unity and peace in relationships. He is stable and thoughtful and faithful. He overlooks offences. Expresses his care and concern for people. He is not focused on himself. He is focused on others. He is respected for his wisdom in discerning situations and his sensitivity for the needs of others. The phrase “above reproach” means he is known for his consistent godly character in any situation. He avoids situations that may tempt him or that may lead others to be concerned.
Another word used here is “hospitable.” He recognizes that everyone needs God’s saving grace… and he welcomes all in the name of Christ.
In regard to his family, it says that he is “husband of one wife.” Back when Paul was writing Timothy, in the secular culture, some men had multiple wives. We don’t have that in our culture, but we do have other practices that are unbiblical. What this also means for us today is that if he is married – which is not a requirement - he faithfully serves and loves his wife. Part of that, men, whether you are married or not, means not being caught up in the lies and trap of pornography. That is sin against your wife, yourself, other women, and God. No, an elder loves his wife and treats her with dignity all who are created in the image of God.
If an elder has children, verse 4 says he is to spiritually lead them and care for them. His love for them is displayed in how he shepherds his family.
Jumping down to verse 7… it identifies another positive requirement – that he is well thought of by outsiders. In his work, for example, he is to be known as fair. He follows through on his word; treats people respectfully and kindly. And in that way, he is known by reputation as honoring and thoughtful outside the household of faith.
Ok, those are his positive character traits. But we’re also given traits that a qualified elder should not have. Verse 3 “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” This could be a longer list. If we go to other texts like Galatians 5, we read a contrast between the desires of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit. So verse 3 here gives us a couple of examples – like not having an active addiction to alcohol or implied in that, other addictions. Or not idolizing money – that’s what it means here to be “a lover of money.” In other words, money and other things are not to be the heart desire of an elder.
He is also not to be violent or quarrelsome. Someone who has outbursts of anger or who is always picking a fight is not qualified to be an elder.
The last thing on the “not” list is verse 6 – he is not to be a new convert to Christ. That is a recognition that maturity in Christ and sanctification takes times. It also takes time for a church to observe and trust that maturity. Being an elder is not about control or power – those are worldly characteristics that may tempt a new believer.
Ok, at this point, every one of us should be squirming in our seat! “If these are the qualifications of an elder, then who is qualified?!” As we evaluate this criteria, we have to recognize two things.
1.)First, the ability of any man to live his life according to this description only comes through the grace of Christ and in the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in his life. There is no other way. As he pursues Christ and continues to study God’s Word, the Holy Spirit will continue to bring a conviction of sin and a desire to further pursue a life pleasing to God.
2.)Second, being qualified as an elder doesn’t mean a man is sinless. I’m pretty sure you know that. In fact, part of being qualified is being humble - recognizing that the lifelong journey of any Christian is growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ. It takes humility to acknowledge failure and sin, but also to ask for forgiveness, and forgive others, and seek God’s grace and help. And it’s also being humble to recognize that there is always more to learn about the faith and what it means to live out that faith and disciple others.
Even with that said, God has set the bar for an elder pretty high. But the spiritual importance of the role requires it.
The Role of an Elder
Ok, let’s transition now and talk about the role of elder. What are his responsibilities and does he have the desire to fulfill them? In fact, desiring in the right way, to be an elder, is an important criterion. We skipped over verse 1… in case you notice. It says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” It is a worthy desire because God has established it for his church.
I remember sitting in a seminary class and the professor said this “If you can do anything else, don’t be a pastor.” I got a little mad… just on the inside, of course. I thought, “that statement is not helpful. I can do lots of things. I already have a career.”
It’s taken a lot of time to work through what he meant. And actually, it took becoming a pastor to fully realize it. That has involved…
•Sitting with believers on their deathbed – reading them the Word, praying with them, and singing hymns to them.
•Leading funeral services – including very difficult ones. Being with families through the grief.
•Counselling married couples who are struggling. Seeking to sew Gospel peace.
•Loving God’s people in difficult situations, struggling with difficult sin - reminding them of God’s grace but being firm through his Word.
•Celebrating the Gospel work of God in victory over sin. And celebrating marriage and new life.
•Teaching and preaching God’s word – week in and week out.
You see, when my professor said “If you can do anything else, don’t be a pastor.” He wasn’t talking about a man’s capability to do other things. No, he was talking was about a strong internal sense that God was leading him to be a pastor and all that being a pastor involved. I’m grateful for the Lord to have confirmed that calling in my life.
Now, you may say, “well, being a pastor is different from being an elder.” Well, yes and no. Yes in the sense of a pastor dedicating his career to shepherding. But no in the sense that all elders are called to shepherd. Maybe not in leading funerals or preaching every week, but in the sense of being with God’s people in difficult times. Praying for them, discipling them, teaching them.
The calling of an elder is shepherding. We read from 1 Peter chapter 5 earlier in the service. This is the apostle Peter writing: “I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you.”
Those things I listed – the spiritual care and nourishment of God’s people. Those things are shepherding. Spiritually caring for the flock to which God has called him. That is the main call of an elder. To be that spiritual shepherd leader.
Our church recognizes just 2 offices, elder and deacon. We believe those are the two offices described in the New Testament. We have different titles for elder, a pastor is called a teaching elder meaning he’s dedicated to shepherding and teaching. We call lay elders ruling elders. I actually don’t prefer that term. The word “ruling” can come with a corporate or business sense. But that is not the role described in Scripture. I’d rather that a ruling elder be called a shepherd elder – because that is his primary calling as an elder.
Back to verses 1 and 2. Part of that desire to be an elder is the desire to be a spiritual shepherd. To have that calling in his life to want to care for God’s people. Praying for us and praying with us. Being with us through trials, and pain, and in joy. Having hard conversations at times, loving and supporting us in God’s Word.
Part of that calling means an elder needs to know the Scriptures. It means he is an ongoing student of them. Because it’s the Word of God that the shepherd needs to bring to the people. When it says in verse 2, “able to teach,” that doesn’t mean teach in a general sense. No, that means able to teach the Bible. To be sure, not every elder has the gift of public teaching, but every elder needs to be able to open the Word and disciple or minister to someone through it.
The other part of spiritual shepherding includes the spiritual direction of the church - the spiritual vision of the church. Giving guidance to the priorities of the church. He’s called an “overseer” in the sense of overseeing the spiritual ministry and concerns of the church… and spiritually protecting the church. That’s part of the job of an actual shepherd – keeping the wolves away from the sheep. As one pastor put it – the role of elder includes both micro-shepherding meaning shepherding and caring for the people individually… and macro-shepherding, shepherding the church as a whole – specifically the spiritual oversight that the body of Christ needs in the local congregation.
Do you see now why the life and integrity of an elder is so important? A spiritual shepherd needs a heart and mind spiritually tuned to God’s Word and the Gospel.
Let me summarize:
1.)Faithful Christ-centered officers of the church are critical for the Gospel fidelity and health of a congregation. It’s the most important thing for our church over the next few months
2.)A qualified elder is a man who pursues a life of integrity and godliness in his heart and mind, which is displayed through his words and actions
3.)An elder is called to spiritually shepherd the souls of God’s people and His church, which requires an internal call to that role and the ability to bring God’s Word to bear in people’s lives
The Great Shepherd
As we come to a close, let me add one final note about the role of elder: An elder shepherds God’s people according to the servant model of the great Shepherd – Christ Jesus.
Let me take us back to 1 Peter. At the end of chapter 2, the apostle Peter reminds the church of the Gospel – that Christ bore our sins on the cross that we might live to righteousness. And then he says this, “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” That’s our Lord and Savior Jesus. An elder in the church serves as a shepherd and overseer under the great Shepherd and overseer of our souls.
We have a Savior in Jesus who is in the business of shepherding the shepherds and shepherding his people. And the great shepherd laid down his life for his sheep. He served them by dying for them. That is the model. The role of elder then serves the great shepherd and spiritually serves us as God’s people by pointing to our great shepherd.
So as we take these next steps forward as a church, may we do so seeking faithful, qualified, humble servants, men of integrity, who desire to care for us, teach us, and point us to the great Shepherd – Jesus our Lord.