You know as well as I do that many of the goofy laws on the books today are present because someone probably did something stupid. For instance:
“You Can’t Throw Rocks At Trains In Wisconsin.”
“Silly String Has Been Banned In Southington, Connecticut Since 1996”
…and many more
However, despite knowing that, I think that we might sometimes read the epistles in the New Testament as if they were from a pastor who was just coming up with instructions for people in the church. While I believe that the Bible was inspired by God, and that we must learn from it or experience the consequences, we should also consider that these letters were usually written for a purpose. If Paul or Peter or James or John had to write to a group of believers about not doing something, or to define a correct practice for the early church, there’s a decent chance that their recipients were doing it wrong, or were making bad choices.
So, as we learn about appropriate criteria for leadership in the church, consider what could happen (and maybe was happening) when a church selects leaders whose behavior was pretty far away from these expectations. Maybe the church in Ephesus had weak leaders, or maybe they were allowing false teachings to be taught. Regardless, Paul – inspired by the Holy Spirit – considered it appropriate to define what good leaders should be like.
Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect.
1 Timothy 3:2-4 NIV
(I particularly like the 1995 New American Standard translation of verse 3, which includes the word “pugnacious”.)
These standards can be used individually as a sort of “checklist” for someone who is being considered for the role of a leader in the church, but they also paint a larger picture of maturity, defining attributes that even those in business would seek in a leader. In contrast to accepting the fruit of false teachers (whose lives illustrate the gaps in their message), those who select leaders in the church are instructed to evaluate the outward manifestations of a potential leader’s heart.
These criteria also allow us to consider what a congregation might look like if their leaders did not have these attributes. If we go back and consider the reverse of each of these, we might ask, “What if a leader in the church was sinful, unfaithful, out of control, not worthy of respect, unkind to others, unable to explain the gospel, drunk, violent, obnoxious, or greedy?” Unfortunately, when we see problems in the news about leaders whose lives include too much of these vices (since we all might have a little bit of them), the outcome is usually embarrassing.
In fact, many of the positive attributes of an elder are what all mature Christians should strive towards, anyway. Just because someone does all of these things, doesn’t mean that they are automatically called to leadership; however, we can all seek to behave in a similar manner, as we learn to love others like Jesus did.
Let’s read a little more, later in this same chapter.
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1 Timothy 3:6-7 NIV
While this passage provides additional criteria, which could be used as an extension to a “checklist”, it also explains one of the reasons why these specific virtues are so important to leadership in the church.
Being selected for leadership also sets people up for sins of pride, which have challenged the human race since Adam and Eve, but become even more tempting when someone gets a little authority. In fact, if you recognize the word “neophyte” (as a couple of translations describe in the start of this passage), you can appreciate why those who are not yet mature in their faith could be at risk from temptations like pride and arrogance, if they were placed in this role. In addition, just as they may be embarrassed, when someone takes on the role of leader, their behavior – positive or negative – reflects on whatever organization, group, or body they lead in.
And, isn’t that something that any of us who call ourselves Christians should be aware of? Yes, the principles of God’s Word include the fact that Jesus saves sinners, and that we don’t necessarily become sin-free immediately after accepting Jesus as our Lord and Savior. However, whenever our behavior consistently and significantly differs from what Jesus taught, this reflects not just on ourselves, but also on Jesus Christ, whose name we carry with us.
Our shortcomings aren’t something to dwell on in self-condemnation or guilt, though. Instead, an awareness of them helps us to bring them before Jesus, even as we seek the Holy Spirit’s help to improve.
So, choose wisely: both if you are called upon to select leaders in the church, and when you are called upon to make choices about your own behavior.
From Sunday School lesson, prepared for and taught on October 11, 2020.
- Christian Standard, Volume CLV, Number 10, pages 83-84. © 2020 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, 1, 2 Timothy & Titus, by C. Michael Moss. Ph. D. College Press Publishing Company, © 1994.