I and my fellow elders at Grand Rapids Free Reformed Church have been focusing on elder training over the past couple of months. Part of that involved preaching on 1 Timothy 3v1-7, a sermon that ended up with 10 points (not usually recommended!):
1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy
This passage is the second “faithful saying” and is introduced with the same words as the amazing statement of soteriology in 1 Tim. 1:15, emphasizing the importance of ecclesiology.
2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer
Paul uses “shepherd,” “elder,” and “bishop/overseer” interchangeably indicating that they are three different words for the one office. To “oversee” includes observation, analysis, discernment, guiding, guarding, etc.
3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…
This is a strong desire but also a commended desire because it is not motivated by selfishness and pride but by a desire to serve Christ and His church.
4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task
It is work; it involves labor, sweat, toil, and effort. But it is noble (lit. “beautiful”) work.
5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be
Given the importance and worth of this work, there are rigorous qualifications to be imposed. It’s not “Ideally…If possible…We’d prefer…” It’s a “must.” An imperative. An uncompromising standard.
6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless
After insisting that the elder must be “above-reproach,” “blameless (lit “unassailable”) Paul moves to Christian morality in general with a strong emphasis on Spirit-given self-control or self-discipline:
- Self controlled in sexual matters: husband of one wife
- Self-controlled in behavior: vigilant, temperate:
- Self-controlled in thinking: sober-minded
- Self-controlled with money: not covetous
- Self-controlled in the use of addictive substances: not given to much wine:
- Self-controlled in conflict: not violent
7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach
His holy character comes out in holy service of others:
- The elder is hospitable: warm, welcoming to others, invites people to enjoy food and fellowship in his home
- The elder is able to teach: able to communicate appropriate information in an appropriate way and at an appropriate time
8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well
Due to parallels, a man’s home is a testing place for his role in the church. One indicates suitability for the other.
9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert
Choosing elders is a serious business with serious consequences if we get it wrong – both for the church and the person. That’s why we must avoid electing new converts or any with limited spiritual maturity.
10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders
Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.