We’re receiving nominations for the offices of elder and deacon during the month of October at our church. Tomorrow, I’ll be addressing some remarks to our congregation seeking to assist them in understanding the Scriptural lists of officer qualifications (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1) in a Gospel-centered way. I offer the following as the outline of my planned remarks, with apologies to all the non-Presbyterian geeks among you….
I. Guiding Principles
In order to properly understand and apply the qualifications for office set forth in 1 Timothy 3 & Titus 1, we first need to have some foundational principles in place.
A. Jesus Christ & His Gospel are the Greatest Things About These Lists! This list of qualifications has been given by the Holy Spirit to us so that we will know how we ought to conduct ourselves in the household of God (1 Tim 3:15). But that’s not the most important or greatest reason these lists exist. Knowing who specifically our Lord may have set aside as elders and deacons in our congregation is a byproduct, but not the main point. The most important reason these lists have been given to us is to showcase the Son! The Holy Spirit intends to reveal Jesus Christ and to teach us His Gospel from these lists! The most wonderful feature of these lists is the way they lay bare the loveliness of the heart & intentions of Jesus Christ for all to view.
1. Fruitfulness from Him (destiny). The lists illustrate the effect Jesus Christ has on His people: He changes us! This is what happens to a life in union with Jesus Christ. He bears this kind of fruit through His people. He bestows life & fruitfulness.
2. Usefulness to Him (deployment). Jesus’ heart offers not only the promise of fruitfulness from Him to us, but the privilege of serving Him. He’s the king of glory, and He puts sinners like us into His service! What privilege!
B. The Qualifications Describe EVERY Christian. The qualifications describe what all Christians should be, and one day in glory will be, by God’s grace. This is the first remarkable thing about this list. With the exception of the requirement that the elder be “able to teach,” (1 Timothy 3:3; Titus 1:9), this list of attributes is one that ought to rightly describe every Christian. All Christians are to be “free from the love of money” (cf. Hebrews 13:5—6); all Christians are to hold marriage in honor and keep the marriage bed undefiled (Hebrews 13:4); no Christian is to be “addicted to wine” or “pugnacious” or “quarrelsome” or “double-tongued”. All Christian parents are called to manage their households well, and all Christians are called to be “gentle” (Galatians 5:23). In fact, all Christians are even required to be “teachers”: “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your hearts to God” (Colossians 3:16).
C. The Qualifications Do Not Describe ANY Christian. The qualifications describe what no Christian always is. In other words, while the standards reflect what ought to be common to all Christians, and will be one day in glory, we must also admit that none of us is always or will be all these things until glorification. For 100% of Christians, 100% of these qualifications are 100% of the time works in progress; in no respect is any of these qualifications 100% finished. An obvious point? Yes, but worth emphasizing because it has many important implications, as we begin to hold these imposing qualifications up against what we know and have experienced of our Lord’s work in the lives of concrete, particular men in our congregation.
1. The Pool of Candidates & the Standards. By definition, 100% of the men called by Jesus Christ to these offices in His Church are justified sinners, with emphasis for present purposes on the “sinner” half of that description. This means that, in the best of men, there will be blindspots, inconsistencies, failures and weaknesses. Thus, the requisite standard is not perfection, but a Gospel-centered maturity, the real measure of which is how he deals with his weaknesses and failures in light of the Gospel.
2. Humble Trembling in the Man a Non-Negotiable. If a man, already serving or just nominated, does not tremble under the weight, urgency, and importance of these standards, then this much is clear: he understands NEITHER the standards, nor the truth about himself. If he does not seriously and with authentic humility see and confess the gaps & lapses between his own life and these standards; if he does not genuinely grieve (repent over) those lapses and pursue growth in those areas, then he is not ready or qualified to serve as an officer. For there has only ever been one Elder, and only one Deacon, in the Church who could look at these standards and His own life and not have anything to repent of or to mourn; His name is Jesus Christ. But He, of course, is the Great and Only Exception. For the rest of us, no one can look at these standards and his own life simultaneously in light of them and not cry out for God’s grace.
This is why the “voice” of the church (cf. Colossians 4:17) is so vital here. The voice of the church needs to speak loudly here in evidencing the call of Christ upon a man’s life. Why it must never be left to the man alone to discern.
3. Gospel Maturity & Progress: How he responds to reality. Growing edges are living edges!
(a) He admits. Does the man see & admit his need for progress?
(b) He is pursuing progress. Humbly & Gospel-centered
(c) There is evidence of progress. Is this a man who is growing? Have you witnessed—and experienced— progress in him? Growing edges = living edges.
4. The Ultimate Stakes: what the Gospel is & isn’t. The reason I have labored this point is because there is something infinitely precious at stake in the discussion: the Gospel—what it is and what it isn’t. Until the sooner of (i) our death; or (ii) the Lord’s return, all Christian maturity will necessarily be a fruitfulness that is incomplete and borne in a field full of thorns and thistles. And this is by God’s design. The greatest hero and weakest saint in the Church of Jesus Christ have this in common: each enter God’s kingdom in the same way, through forgiveness purchased by Jesus Christ. There is no distinction between them. And one of the dangers of a list like 1 Timothy 3 is that we would misread it and come away with the “understanding” that maturity means “flawless.” The Gospel reminds us that it doesn’t. Hallelujah!