Truth & Training from Titus - Part 4: Chapter 1 vv 6-8
Stephen Baker, Manchester
This article is part of an on-going study. The writer’s intention is to look at each phrase and statement in the letter and to glean a simple understanding of what Paul was writing to Titus about. There will not be a lengthy introduction to each article so it would be advantageous to read the previous articles, either in the printed edition of the magazine, or on-line via www.preciousseed.org.
Definition and checklist for an elder, vv. 6-9
Family Life, v. 6.
‘if any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly’.
The elder must be blameless and free from any charges against him. He is to have a good report of the world outside and be held in high regard by the believers in fellowship in the local church. This is an extremely high standard. I take it that there are two reasons why the standard is so high.
First, the elder represents God to His people; he is acting in the capacity of a junior shepherd working for the great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, Heb. 13. 20, 1 Pet. 5. 4.
Second, he is an example to the people of God, 1 Pet. 5. 3; they have to follow his faith, Heb. 13. 7. How can an elder teach things he does not practice himself; how can he apply discipline if he is failing in the same matters? How onerous and demanding it is for elders to be blameless. It can only be done in the power of the Spirit of God.
The next two specifications teach us that the elder needs to be a man of high moral values. He is operating in a domestic environment where he should have earned respect and maintained order. For an elder to lead and rule in the context of the local church he must have a lifestyle that is consistent with the standards that God expects of his people. It is not that the Lord demands a different standard from elders than He does from the rest of His people. Rather, for the elder to be a worthy example to follow, Heb. 13. 7, he must be living out the very principles that God expects of all of His people.
Marital purity and moral faithfulness is expected of the elder. He has to be the husband of one wife. When the elder is confronted with difficult situations in this area of Christian life, his personal morality must be above criticism, as this same standard will also apply to the rest of the Lord’s people. This verse is not teaching that he cannot be married more than once, as this would be in conflict with other scriptures which teach that the marriage contract ends at death,1 but that he should be married to one woman at a time and live a morally pure life. One modern translation says that he should be ‘faithful to his one wife’ NEB.
The second domestic item is about the elder’s family. A look at what some of the other New Testament epistles say about elders in this respect is helpful. First Timothy chapter 3 verses 4 and 5 says ‘one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)’ The idea is that the elder should run a house where respect and order is seen and, as a result, it is obvious that he is fitted to take leadership of the church of God.
The verse is not teaching that a man cannot be an elder if his children are not saved, as he has no control over the response that his children have to the gospel. The word ‘believing’ or ‘faithful’ is not about saving faith but about the trust and respect that his children have for him, having been brought up in a God-fearing home. The elder’s children should be managed and cared for in such a way that there is no room to accuse them of riotous and loose living or rebellious and disobedient behaviour. The elder’s ability to manage things at home is a clear indicator of his ability to rule, lead and care for the people of God.
Personal life, v. 7. ?
‘For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God, not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre’.
This is the second time that the word ‘blameless’ has been used. Now, it is used specifically in respect of the overseer (the word ‘bishop’ is misleading, as it carries with it a meaning that is not fair to the text of scripture) not just in relation to the character of the person but in relation to his responsibility. The overseer is in a position of trust. God has entrusted him with feeding and caring for His people. He represents God as a steward and looks after what belongs to Him.
Overseers would be wise to remember this as they serve God in this capacity. They are responsible to do the will of God and not to be driven by their own interests. As far as their temperament is concerned they should be self-controlled and not easily aggravated or made angry. Self-control should be a strong feature in their lives; they should not be under the influence of alcohol. Drinking wine is a dangerous habit and the scripture clearly warns against its influence and dangers. An elder should not ever be out of control because of alcohol and would be wise to abstain from drinking as the word of God makes it clear that men and women who want to serve God should not drink.2
Violence is a no-go area for the overseer. Self-control covers every aspect of his life, including financial matters. The desire for money or personal gain does not feature (or should not) in the mind of the elder. There should be no financial benefit in doing the work of the elder, apart from the assembly providing for their needs if they are in a position where they need help, 1 Tim. 5.
Life in respect of others, v. 8.
‘but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate’.
This is a very interesting facet of the life of an elder. He should have a home where everyone is welcome. In the privacy of his home, the saints will have fellowship with the elder and his wife; they will begin to learn from his example and from his teaching. As they get to know the elder, they will begin to trust him and confide in him. Problems that possibly would never have been discussed in public meetings can be handled sensitively and carefully at home. The spiritual progress of the believer can be watched and tender care and love can be applied as all true shepherds should do. A study of the beneficial use of the home in scripture is not the topic of this article but it would be a very worthwhile and helpful study.
The second point in this verse is that the elder should be known for his love of good men, this would be better translated ‘good things’. This does not mean he likes to have ‘the very best that money can buy’ but that things that are pleasing to God are very close to his heart. He loves the good things of God. Romans chapter 15 verse 2 says, ‘Let every one of us please his neighbour for his good to edification’, and 2 Timothy chapter 3 verse 17 teaches that the man of God has been given the word of God so that he will be ‘throughly furnished unto all good works’. The good things of God and the goodness of God should be something that interests and delights the heart of the elder.
Third, this man will be wise concerning what he thinks about. His mind-set is that of a discreet man; he can be trusted and he is careful what he thinks about. You cannot police this kind of activity, but it will be obvious by the lifestyle of the elder if he is matching this criteria. Philippians chapter 4 verse 8 exhorts the believer to think on beneficial things. It is essential advice, as it is easy for our minds to wander and to focus on things that are not good for us or pleasing to the Lord. It needs to be a conscious decision on the part of the believer (and in this case the elder), as this way of thinking will not happen without a choice being made on the individual’s part and without the help of the Spirit of God.
The fourth thing in the list is that the elder should be a just man. This is the description that is given to Joseph, the husband of Mary the mother of the Lord Jesus. He was a just man. It also defines the way the Lord Jesus will assess things on the day of judgement, John 5. 30, and the word the Lord Jesus uses to describe His Father when praying to him, 17. 25. The elder will be a person who seeks to assess things fairly and must reflect the character of God in this respect.
As we consider the next word, ‘holy’, we must not be influenced by how the world in general sees this quality. To be holy speaks of both purity and a devoted life. The word is used regularly about God and about the Lord Jesus Christ. We seem to be building a picture here as we go through these qualities that the elder should be a man who strongly reflects the character and personality of God Himself.
The final word is ‘temperate’ or self-controlled. This means, literally, to have power over yourself. This is possibly one of the greatest problems we all have. To be in control of ourselves is extremely difficult, but the saved person has surrendered their lives to God and allows the Spirit of God to give them strength to live a God-honouring life. It can be relatively easy to control others using various methods but how many powerful people have fallen when it came to self-control? The elder must be known for his self-control.
1 For example, Rom. 7. 1-3.
2 Strong drink and the word of God: For more information see the following passages of scripture: Prov. 4. 17; 20. 1; 21. 17; 23. 20-21, 29, 30-33, and those relating to priests, prophets, and the Nazarite, etc.