As I was reflecting on what to speak about this week and the unique timing of being the week after installing our Elders and Deacons and having spoken about calling last week and being a week before Father’s day when I will be sharing at the Alger CRC and unable to speak about Fatherhood directly with you, I found myself being drawn to the words of First Timothy 3, Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach… (1Tim 3:2). If you are like me, you are thinking, “These are words about church leadership.” And you would be correct, but they are also words about Fatherhood. And because of that unique combination between leadership and fatherhood and the specific date on which we are gathered, these are timely words for our body. Every year I bring these words to the council as elder and deacon nominating begins, but I saw something new this year as I was studying. I saw God speaking not only to some men, active office bearers and candidates for the office, but to all men, and more than that, to all people [img sculptor with clay] calling all of them into conformity to his will. As Romans 8:29 reminds us, “For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”(NIV).
When Paul penned the qualifications to Timothy for elders, I believe he had the words of Romans 8 floating through his mind, recalling the truth that all people within the church are called to Christ-likeness. And so he can write to Timothy, [img focus] “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task” (1Tim 3:1). For in effect, Paul is saying, “If anyone sets his heart on being Christ-like, this is a good thing, especially as he lives out that character within the church, urging others on into a similar desire and hope.”
Truly, is there anyone in this room today, man or woman, boy or girl, who doesn’t want to be Christ-like in the way they live and interact with others? Is there anyone here who thinks [img all these adj] faithfulness, temperance, gentleness, and self-control are things to be eschewed and cast aside? Is there anyone here who doesn’t desire to be more hospitable, more gracious, and more generous? I didn’t think so. We all want to be more like Jesus and we recognize that these virtues are the very qualities, which Christ exhibited to the world as he lived, died and rose again from the dead.
So, we are looking at the qualifications of church leadership on this day in 2012 because it is in this list that we are given a glimpse of what it means for every man, woman and child to be Christ like. In short, Christ-likeness is summarized by this one phrase: above reproach [img integrity/ethics]. This word is only used 3 times in the Bible and it is different but related to its corollary in Titus 1:6 where Paul says an elder must be blameless. Both of these words carry the basic meaning of being uncriticizable; many have seen these two words as a summary of all that follows, especially when it is recognized that the final quality listed is “having a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap” (1Tim 3:7). Hence, being blameless or above reproach is really a trait that summarizes everything between these two bookends.
Is this not the desire of every believer? Fathers, do you not desire to “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12 NIV)? Sons, do you not eagerly aspire “In the same way, [to] let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16 NIV). Women and daughters, do you not desire to be known among “All my fellow townsmen [as] a woman of noble character” (Ruth 3:11 NIV), just as Ruth was recognized for his gentle spirit, hard work and faithful devotion to her mother-in-law, Naomi?
Blameless, pure, uncriticizable, innocent, guiltless, above reproach, unimpeachable, exemplary, perfect, virtuous, impeccable, and faultless are all ways of declaring what it means to be Christ like. [img Chrysostom with quote overlaid] John Chrysostom once wrote of this word “every virtue is implied in this word.” [img Calvin with quote] John Calvin commenting on both words used to open the list of qualities to be found in an elder writes,
“He must not be marked by any infamy that would lessen his authority. There will be no one found among men that is free from every vice; but it is one thing to be blemished with ordinary vices, which do not hurt the reputation, because they are found in men of the highest excellence, and another thing to have a disgraceful name, or to be stained with any baseness.”
Every Christian is called into such a life. So what does such a life look like? It is described in various ways in the Scriptures. To the Galatians, Paul described it with the [img] Fruit of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal 5:22-23). To the Corinthians he presents such a blameless life in terms of a [img] love that is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1Cor 13:4-8). To the Ephesians he writes, [img] Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace…speak the truth in love (Eph 4:2-3, 15).
And to Timothy and Titus he describes the blameless life as the one where [img] faithfulness in marriage is displayed. It is a life where pornography and lust don’t exist, nor do emotional surrogates outside the husband and wife reign. It is a life where moderation rules in all things – where work is balanced with play, seriousness with laughter, asceticism with indulgence, discipline with love – it is temperate. The Christ like life is self-controlled, understanding that not all things are good for me, or for others and willing and able to restrain the lustful desires of the sinful human nature (2Pet 2:18). Whether those desires be for physical pleasures like ipads, home-entertainment systems, bigger house, boats, tractors and play things, or whether they be for emotional indulgences like affairs, gossip and power-trips the man or woman of God is self-controlled, recognizing the temptations before them and fleeing to the safety of Christ.
It is a life of respectability inside the church and outside, full of hospitality, where others always understand that they are important and that you stand ready and willing to use your life and resources in order to bless them greatly. Isn’t that what [img] hospitality is – inviting others into your homes, at your expense, to share life and give them a gift of being willing to listen and love. Truly hospitality is shown not in the planned invitations that are issued, though that is part of it, but it is more poignantly displayed in the unplanned ways a person opens up to others. When someone drops in unannounced, are they made to feel welcomed or like a burden? When a need is seen, is it met before a request is even made? These are the tests for hospitality in the family of God and they are the call that every believer has in order to live in conformity to the character of Christ.
Believers desiring a Christ-like character must not be controlled by addictions or have dependencies on anything other than Christ. We are not to be a slave to wine or anything else that one can be dependant upon or addicted to, rather we are to [img] be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18). The Spirit of Christ is to be our great need and desire. We are to be a people who gently instruct, train and bear with one another, praying for each other and granting great forbearance, instead of being a people who are violent and strike and beat one another. This means our words as well as our actions are to build up instead of tearing down. Our life is to mercifully lead and guide instead of coarsely rule and abuse. We are to be models of righteousness and servanthood instead of authoritarian and dictatorial. We are to be able to gently rebuke and calm a situation instead of elevating it and bringing about greater stress and strain.
There are people in our church who are the epitome of gentleness and kind rebuke. One man in particular always amazes me at his ability to instruct and admonish me without my ever feeling attacked or skewered. Furthermore, he is extremely generous instead of loving money, he gives liberally and freely. He helps the needy, he grants gifts to friends and strangers. He understands that gold and silver, greenbacks and loons will all be lost in the world to come and so he freely gives what has been freely given to him.
Do you see how such a person, imbued with these qualities is called to lead the church? But more than that do you see that such a person is who each and every Christian is called to be? Men are you tracking with me? Is your desire to be such a person? Women, are you striving to Know Christ more and to have him known in you? Regardless of your gender, have you set your heart on being an overseer because you have set your heart on being like Christ?
Do you protect your family, care for them, go ahead of them and lead them into greater [img diff. pottery mugs with crosses] conformity to Jesus because your very life is a testimony to the work of Christ in you, conforming your character to His? Is your life so compelling that your children, relations, friends and co-workers follow you willingly and joyfully? Do you want those closest to you to grow up with the same faults, struggles and sinful patterns evident in your life or are you striving with Christ to see those blemishes transformed and renewed into his character?
Men, whether you are married or single, with children, grandchildren or none, young or old, it doesn’t matter for you belong to a family composed of every Christian in the world and God the Father is calling you and I to manage our relations well. To live in such a way that Jesus is glorified and those closest to us are ushered deeper into Christ’s arms. A list like Paul presents to Timothy and Titus serves to remind each and every person that our lives are important to one another for the leadership of the church is drawn from the Christian family and if we aren’t passionately following Jesus then the church will suffer. If our lives aren’t compelling those closest to us to pursue Christ, can the Church truly be a transforming force in the world?
You see, the qualifications of an elder are really the call of every believer. In verse 14-15, after discussing the qualifications of elders and deacons, Paul writes, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household. Though addressed to church leaders specifically, Paul doesn’t let anyone out of these high requirements. We are all to behave this way in the church of God because we, the members of the church, are [img] a pillar and foundation of the truth (1Tim 3:15).
It is our lives, as Christian men and women, that offer support and defense of the Gospel message. A pillar is a supporting part of a building which makes it stable and helps it stand and our lives, our conduct as men in the world are this support and stability. Furthermore, the NIV translates the next word as foundation, though none of the various translations I consulted offered the same word, some used bastion, others bulwark and others ground. My personal preference is bulwark from the NRSV or buttress from the ESV because these terms connote defensive structures. So I believe Paul is telling Timothy that our lives in the church offer support and defense of the gospel we preach to the world. So men, let me ask, does your life offer support and defense of the gospel, can your family, your friends, your co-workers, your neighbors see how the proclamation of grace, forgiveness and holiness are corroborated by the life you live, the words you speak, the manner your business is engaged in? We look at this passage on church leadership on Father’s Day because it is from the individual members of the family that the support and defense of the gospel is confirmed and it is in our lives as men, as fathers, as brothers, as sons and relatives that the health of the church is made manifest to the world, in short, the character of our leadership at home, work and church reflects upon the Gospel we are preaching.
We can say that isn’t true, but in his letter to Titus, Paul issues a strong admonition with these words, There are many rebellious people, mere talkers and deceivers…they claim to know God, but by their actions they deny him. They are detestable, disobedient, and unfit for doing anything good (Titus 1:10, 16). Let that never be said of any man of God, present in this church.
So Christian, I challenge you to live into the mystery of Godliness, a great mystery. According to Colossians 1:27 “To [the saints] God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory”. [img] Christ in you – his incarnation in you, his baptism in you, his daily life witnessed by angels lived out in you, his word preached in you by heart, mouth and hand, his people called through you, his life gloriously ascended and reigning in you.
The gospel is at stake as it is presented to the world. Just as each of these points in Christ’s life, if removed causes the gospel to be less than it truly is, so our life, when lived apart from the striving for Christ like excellencies in character and deed also causes the gospel to be less than it truly is. It brings the message into suspect. How can a [img] violent man preach a gospel of [img] humility and grace? How can an [img] unfaithful husband preach a gospel of Christ’s [img] devotion to the world? How can a [img] greedy miser preach a gospel of [img] generous blessing? Do you see the point men? Your life, your passion, your hopes and dreams, your goals, your words lend support and defense to the proclamation of Jesus Christ.
Now if you are like me, there is probably a great amount of fear and trembling in you at the realization of these words from Paul to Timothy. But let me offer you grace this morning. We know that our lives are broken. We know that our actions are flawed and that many times we achieve much less than we should, could or ought. And it is for these sins, these omissions and failings that [img] Christ himself did appear in the flesh in order to live out the perfect life so that you and I might be above reproach, blameless until the day of his coming (Phil 1:10). He died for our sins that we might live in him. He bore our failings that we might be redeemed, humble servants coming to his glorious throne without spot, wrinkle or blemish. Though we are a pillar and bulwark of the truth, He is The Pillar and The Bulwark of the Truth. He is the righteous one, the Living God, the first and the Last, the beginning and the end so that we might be a people acceptable unto our God, above reproach and blameless in a filthy and depraved generation.
- Following the Spirit into Christ-likeness (1Tim 3:2, Rom 8:29)
- Church Leadership and Fatherhood
- Desiring Christ-likeness (1Tim 3:1,7, 1Pet 2:12, Matt 5:16, Ruth 3:11, Gal 5:22-23, 1Cor 13:4-8, Eph 4:2-3, 15, 2Pet 2:18, Eph 5:18)
- From the family the Elders are drawn (1Tim 3:14-15)
- From the family the pillar and foundation of the church is established (1Tim 3:14-15
- In the family the health of the church is seen
- Character of our leadership at home and in the church reflects upon the Gospel we are preaching (Titus 1:10, 16)
- The Gospel: the Mystery of Godliness is happening in you (Col 1:27, Phil 1:10)