************ Sermon on 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on January 13, 2013
1 Timothy 3:1-13
1 Timothy 3:1 & Belgic Confession Article 30
"Qualifications for Church Office"
There is a note in the bulletin that next month we begin the process of making nominations for church office. The members of the congregation are invited and encouraged to direct our attention to men they believe are qualified for church office. With this in mind, I thought I would spend a couple of Sunday night services looking at the qualifications of those who serve in church office.
What is the congregation to look for when we undergo the process of nominations for church office? What is the Consistory to look at in this process?
In many churches, maybe most churches, the composition of the typical church council looks too much like a Rotary club – filled with professionals, prosperous businessmen, successful dairymen, and community leaders. Some are devout, some less so. Some always study the Bible, some rarely study the Bible. Most are chosen because of their prominence in the world. Successful leadership in the world, it is assumed, translates into successful leadership in the church.
Look over the qualifications for church office listed by our Scripture reading. How many have to do with an office-bearer's success in the world? None of them. Wealth, success, status, and power in the world are completely ignored. Telling us what? Telling us that worldly success is not a criteria by which the church should choose its leaders. Can you imagine a Donald Trump or a Barack Obama or a Bill Clinton on our church council – all of them prominent, even great, in the eyes of the world? However awkward it may be, when it comes to her officers the church is sometimes required to pass over the great ones of this world.
I All Scripture is God-Breathed
A A husband and wife were discussing a sermon they heard. The husband agreed with the sermon but added, "It doesn't apply to me." "It doesn't apply to me." The wife was dumb-founded. She could hardly believe her ears. "It doesn't apply to me." This husband was saying, in effect, "It applies to everyone else but it doesn't apply to me. I am the one exception who doesn't have to follow the Word of God."
What do you think the Apostle Paul would say about this? Or, better yet, what do you think the Lord Jesus would say about this? Would they listen with approval and say, "Yes, you are right, we made a mistake. This Scripture does not apply to you"? Is that what they would say? Of course not? Listen to what Paul writes to Timothy about Scripture:
(2Tim 3:16-17) All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, (17) so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.All Scripture. Not just some of it. Not just the parts we agree with. Not just the parts that do not offend us. Not just the parts we cherry-pick as applying to us.
B Why do I bring this up in a sermon on qualifications for church office? Because of what I hear too often about what Paul writes in 1 Timothy 3. The common observation and typical objection is that no one lives up to the qualities listed by Paul. In other words, we need to be realistic and back off from the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 because no one is able to fulfill them. Back off. Ignore them. Just try to get the best men we can.
But do you we hear what we are actually saying? "It doesn't apply to me." "It doesn't apply to us." Or, to put it another way, "All Scripture is NOT God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness."
No, my brothers and sisters, the Scriptural qualifications for church office are not mere window dressing that we can ignore or overlook or back away from. The qualifications are there to qualify. The Spirit-inspired Apostle gave the church these standards because they must be fulfilled by those in church office, though imperfectly.
You know, of course, there is only One Who is able to perfectly fulfill the qualifications. He is the Good Shepherd, the perfect Overseer, the ever-vigilant Bishop of our souls. I am talking about the Lord Jesus Christ.
Nevertheless, we look for church officers who fulfill the qualifications, though they do so imperfectly. We need to recognize, congregation, that there is a difference between fulfilling the qualifications imperfectly and not fulfilling them at all.
II Character Counts
A Throughout his letters, Paul is more concerned about who an elder is than with what he does. We are not given a list of duties in 1 Timothy 3; rather, we are given a list of qualifications.
I am hesitant to use the same phrase as Hillary Clinton lest someone misunderstand what I say. But let me say it anyways. When it comes to who is in church office, Character Counts. Character Counts.
Look over the list of qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3. We see that character counts. The criteria for church office concerns character. And, we are told to look at the behavior that reveals character. Leaders in the church are to be men of character.
What kind of character do we look for? Leaders in the church are to demonstrate self-discipline through such character traits as temperance, self-control, respectability, moderation, and gentleness. Or, to express this negatively, they cannot be drunkards, violent, and quarrelsome.
Church leaders are to be above reproach – that is, above accusation (1 Tim 3:2). They are to be ones about whom it is said, "They would never do that." Not that they are perfect. Not that they aren't tempted. But when it comes right down to it, they don't carry through on their sinful desires. We should not even be able to imagine their entanglement in notorious sin.
Church leaders are to be faithful in marriage and they are to manage their households well.
Church leaders must have a good reputation with outsiders.
Who or what do we look for in church office? We are to look for men of character. A man is to be ordained only when he is recognized as a man of character.
B In looking at men of character, Paul mentions three spheres of influence. He wants us to look at how office bearers interact with or behave in three areas of life.
The first area, of course, is the church. The second area is the family. The third area is the world. When it comes to church office, we are to look for men who demonstrate character in the church, the family, and the world.
I can go so far as to say that the church, the family, and the world are the proving grounds of a man's character. How has he conducted himself in the ministry and life of the church? What is his family life like? What is his reputation in the community?
C I always shudder when I hear of a couple who fall in love and get married within a few days or weeks of knowing each other. How well do you know someone if you have NOT spent time with them? How well do you know the character of someone after a few hours of interaction? I am not surprised when such a whirlwind romance ends in divorce or annulment.
The same thing is true with those in church office. "He must not be a recent convert," writes Paul (1 Tim 3:6). That is to say, he is to demonstrate character over time. Over time he shows he endures in the Christian faith and in godliness. Over time he has shown his character in the church, the family, and the world – and not found lacking.
Of course, we are looking over time at the character of a Christian man. Not up for discussion and examination is what has happened before the man professed faith in Christ. A man married multiple times before his conversion or a man who was sexually immoral before his conversion is not unfit for office if he has lived a life of repentance since first confessing the faith. It is faithfulness to the Savior in all of their life as a Christian that we must see in church leaders.
III A Noble Task
A "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1).
The phrase "trustworthy saying" is found five times in the pastoral epistles – that is, Paul's letters to Timothy and Titus (1 Tim 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim 2:11; Tit 3:8). It is to be found nowhere else in Scripture. This formula or phrase always introduces a statement about salvation or faith that was popular in the early Church. Probably it introduces a formula or statement taken from early creeds and confessions of the Church.
The Greek language allows us to translate this phrase as a "faithful saying."
What is a trustworthy or faithful saying? It is a saying one can depend on. You know it is true, reliable, and inerrant. It is the Spirit-inspired apostle's way of saying, "I do solemnly swear that what I say is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help me God." Of course, in the final analysis any saying of Scripture is trustworthy and faithful not because Paul can swear it is but only because it comes from our God Who is trustworthy and faithful. Because we can depend on Him we know we can depend on what He says to us in His Word.
In front of us this evening is a trustworthy or a faithful saying. In other words, there can be no doubt about its truth and reliability.
B Two times, Paul adds another phrase to the phrase "a trustworthy saying." Two times Paul mentions that the trustworthy saying "deserves full acceptance" (1 Tim 1:15; 4:9). Paul is being redundant when he says this. Paul is saying the obvious when he says this. That is like saying the grass is green or the sky is blue or the pope is Catholic.
In other words, it goes without saying that a "trustworthy saying" "deserves full acceptance." We must believe a trustworthy saying with all our heart. We must never doubt its truth or question its validity.
C "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1).
Consider the trustworthy saying in front of this evening in the light of the other trustworthy sayings of Scripture. It is a trustworthy saying that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners (1 Tim 1:15). It is a trustworthy saying that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe (1Tim 4:10). It is a trustworthy saying that if we died with him, we will also live with him (2 Tim 2:11). It is a trustworthy saying that those justified by God's grace have the hope of eternal life (Titus 3:7). Four trustworthy sayings about salvation and grace and eternal life. And now a trustworthy saying about church office. How does this trustworthy saying fit in with the rest?
Do you realize what Paul is saying? Paul is saying church office is right up there with salvation and grace and eternal life. I can go still further and say church office is central to salvation and grace and eternal life.
D "Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1). What is the "noble task" that Paul has in mind?
In the early church, being an elder made a man more visible. The result? You were more likely to be persecuted just like Christ was persecuted. It is a "noble task" to suffer with Christ and for Christ (Col 1:24; Phil 3:10). This brings to mind a note from Tulare-Kings Right to Life this past week:
The owners of Hobby Lobby refuse to include abortion-inducing drugs in their employee health plan. Starting Tuesday they will be subject to federal fines of up to $1.3 million per day.This is the kind of thing the Spirit has in mind for us today. It can be costly to stand up for Christ as an office-bearer.
Most importantly the noble task that Paul has in mind is that elders shepherd the flock of the Lord. The elders lead the flock in the way of salvation through prayer, teaching, and counsel. The elders make sure the people are fed from the true Word of God as they supervise worship and preaching. How does the Belgic Confession describe this noble task?
By this meansWhat can possibly be more noble than all of this? No wonder what Paul says about church office is a trustworthy saying!
true religion is preserved;
true doctrine is able to take its course;
and evil men are corrected spiritually and held in check,
so that also the poor
and all the afflicted
may be helped and comforted
according to their need
Now, since the work of an elder is so noble, it must be performed according to the highest standards. Which means only qualified men of character may be chosen for church office.
"Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task" (1 Tim 3:1).
Did you notice Paul says "sets his heart on, desires"? It is obvious from this that Paul, and Jesus, do not want any reluctant office bearers. They find it praiseworthy if someone wants to serve in church office. In other words, those in church office need to have an inner call, a personal call, what we know as the calling or leading of the Spirit. I repeat: Paul, and Jesus, do not want any reluctant office bearers. They want men who want to serve in church office, who aspire to serve in church office.
But more important than an inner call is the outward call from the church. In this outward call the church recognizes that a man has the right character as displayed in the church, in the family, and in the world.
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