Share This Episode
Truth for Life Alistair Begg Logo

Elders: Taking Care of God’s Church (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
May 22, 2023 4:00 am

Elders: Taking Care of God’s Church (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

On-Demand Podcasts NEW!

This broadcaster has 1078 podcast archives available on-demand.

Broadcaster's Links

Keep up-to-date with this broadcaster on social media and their website.

May 22, 2023 4:00 am

When a large tree falls in the forest, it brings down smaller trees in its wake. Similarly, when sin brings down a church leader, many others are hurt. So what should we look for in church leaders? Hear the answer on Truth For Life with Alistair Begg.



If you've ever seen a large tree fall in the forest, you know that smaller trees in its path can be damaged or destroyed. In the same way, when sin brings down a church leader, others are hurt as well. Today on Truth for Life, Alistair Begg explains why choosing the right leaders for the church is so vitally important. What are the traits we should be looking for?

We'll find out today. 1 Timothy 3 and verse 1. Let's read together.

Here is a trustworthy saying. If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach—the husband of but one 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 with proper respect. If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God's church? 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.

Amen. Now, we continue our studies here in this letter of Paul to Timothy within the context, as stated in the fifteenth verse of this third chapter, instruction provided so that people will know how to conduct themselves in God's household, which is nothing other than the church of the living God. And we have seen that these instructions on practical matters are of primary importance, and certainly as we come to this matter of leadership within the context of the local church. All of us, I'm sure, understand the vital importance of leadership. It's virtually impossible to live life without being aware of the fact that strength in leadership is a vital aspect of the way in which we conduct our day-to-day affairs. And therefore, it would be a surprising thing if the same were not to be true within the context of the church.

Indeed, indeed, it is vitally so. The church of Jesus Christ does not progress beyond the spiritual progress of its leaders. And that is why the New Testament has a tremendous amount to say about the vital nature of leadership within the church. And it describes the role or the function of leadership, the authority which attaches itself to leadership, which is a derived authority from the risen Christ mediated through the Scriptures, and then the characteristics which are to be represented in the lives of those who are entrusted with the responsibility of leadership. And the unfolding pattern of the Acts of the Apostles is that as the apostles proclaimed the good news of the gospel and people came to faith in Christ, then they congregated in fellowships of God's people, devoting themselves to the apostles' doctrine, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer. And the apostles in turn returned to these fellowships to ensure that everything would be done decently and in order.

And recognizing the vital importance of leadership, they appointed elders in each of the places. And you can, by a simple cursory reading of the Acts of the Apostles, find this on the very surface of the text. And for example, in Acts 14, 23, you will find it.

By the time you get to Acts 20, Paul is taking his leave of the elders there who had been appointed by their express purpose. And in that structure of leadership, which we have found and which we have iterated again and again in the course of the years, we have been discovering that some are called to be responsible for the leadership of others, while all are to be responsible to the leadership of Jesus through his Word. And that vital, important principle needs to be stated and restated—that while a man may be responsible for the leadership of his home and to exercise a spiritual priesthood over his family, he, along with those who submit to him according to God's ordinance, he, along with them, is responsible to the leadership of Christ mediated through his Word. And when a man is appointed to leadership in the local church, as necessary as it is for him to fulfill that role with wisdom, grace, and boldness, he does so in the awareness that he, along with every other member of the church, is called to submit to the leadership of Christ as it is clearly provided through the pages of Scripture. And that is why in the preaching of the Word of God the church is led. That is why the Word of God is supremely the Word of God in the preaching event, because God has chosen, by that means, to instruct his people. And that is why we think of the preaching of the Word of God as a means of grace, and we urge one another to be listening to the Word of God preached, because God has ordained that by that means his family should be fostered in fellowship and grow in grace, and indeed, as hearing comes by the Word of God, so faith will be engendered in the lives of those who are unbelievers. And in the exercise of leadership, the consideration of character is of vital importance.

The men are to be a certain quality and kind of men. It is not that the qualities are different from the qualities that are to be discovered and developed amongst the congregation as a whole, because they're not different, but it is that those who would aspire to a position of leadership must clearly be seen to be marked by these qualities and characteristics to which every godly Christian will aspire. Now, it goes without saying that when we talk about leadership and eldership in the church, we are talking in terms of men and not in terms of women, because of all that we discovered in verses 9–15 as well as elsewhere in the New Testament. Now, the New Testament places as great a stress—and listen carefully to this—as great a stress upon character as a qualification for spiritual leadership as upon gift. Indeed, I think it would be possible to argue that the New Testament places a greater emphasis upon character than upon gift.

In fact, the fifteen characteristics that are here before us in this little section of the fifteen characteristics, only one of them has to do with gift—namely, able to teach. The remaining fourteen all have to do with godly living. And that in itself ought to be a salutary reminder to us. When you take this passage and you view it in conjunction with the verses in Titus chapter 1 verses 6–9, the whole emphasis is upon personal qualities. And in point of fact, the most important contribution that the elders make to any company of God's people is the contribution that is made on the basis of their personal godliness.

And that is why these verses are a tough mirror into which we're called to look. Now, if you want to broaden it as we should—he was thinking of a local parish in the Anglican church which would be very one-man focused as a result of all kinds of misunderstandings, etc., into which we needn't go—but when we broaden it out, we need to recognize that generally speaking, as are the elders, so are the people. If you have godly elders, you will have godly people. If you have evangelizing elders, you will have evangelizing people. If you have kindly elders, you will have kindly people. If you have hospitable elders, you will have hospitable people.

Because the church cannot progress beyond the level of the leadership. The kind of dad you have is the kind of family you have. Yes, the mother too. But the Father marks the place.

If he is jovial or gloomy, if he is smart or dumb, if he—whatever he is—he presents an aura upon the place. And that's what makes it so staggering. That's what makes it so painful. At any point of ministry, to read this in my present position, I'd rather pass this off to any of the other elders and say, Go ahead, do 1 Timothy 3 for me, would you? I'd like to listen. My throat's a little ticklish.

I would rather you had a crack at this. Because the character that is called for here is a character that is not to appear in fits and starts, but it is a character that is to be maintained for all of the life of the man in service. The qualities of godly living are not supposed to be there in bursts of enthusiasm, followed by periods of chronic inertia.

Now you see it, now you don't. But it is to be sustained in the same way as when we get married. They ask you the question, or you have to say the phrase, So long as we both shall live, or till death us do part. In other words, this is not just a week at a time and see how you feel next week. This is twenty-four hours a day, three hundred and sixty-five days a year, for the rest of your life. You have to stay pure forever.

Now, Paul understood the challenge of this. That's why in 1 Corinthians 9, as he gets to the end of it, he says, You know, I don't want any of you folks to think that I'm just a shadow-boxer in relationship to this. I don't want you to think that I simply bought a tracksuit to hang in my closet, but I don't go running. No, no, he says, Listen, I don't run like a man running aimlessly. I don't fight like a man beating the air.

I beat my body, and I make it my slave. Why? So that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize. It's not an issue of giftedness. It's an issue of character. There are plenty of guys who still are gifted in speaking, but they have violated the characteristics that demand leadership in the church. Therefore, they're done. We make the mistake of assuming that because the gift remains, they stay.

No! Because the qualities of godliness are the very seedbeds in which any sense of giftedness is to be worked out. That's why James says, Let not many of you become teachers, because he who teaches will be judged with greater strictness. Christian leaders are not perfect. Let's make sure we understand that. And Christian leaders are not called to pretend that they're perfect. Let's make sure we understand that too. Because if nobody else understands it, our kids will understand it, our wives will understand it.

But we are called to an unequaled privilege and to a peculiar responsibility in relationship to these things. When a Christian falls into sin, he hurts other people. When a Christian leader falls into sin, he hurts many other people.

When a big tree falls in a forest, it brings down a ton of wheat trees with it. And that's the challenge here. And that's why we say again and again, Let's be real clear. Lest anybody thinks he stands, we'll take heed lest he falls, you know. And Paul Simon, in his song, he says, I don't want to end up a cartoon in a cartoon graveyard. I don't want to end up a cartoon in leadership magazine.

Sorry, story. That's why God gives us this instruction. And so, we're going to go through it. We're going to go above it at about 12,000 feet.

We won't go quite up to 30, but we're not going to dismantle all the leaves and branches, you will be pleased to know, especially if you look at your watch. Verse 1 makes it clear that we shouldn't be afraid of Christian leadership, as if somehow or another it's not really Christian to want to lead. That's just false modesty. That's not true to our personality. Not everybody aspires to leadership, but for those who do aspire to leadership, they ought to be honest enough to say, I aspire to leadership. The question is, then, whether you should lead. But you're allowed to say, I aspire to leadership. And in fact, it will be obvious, because you'll be leading people. When you suggest something, people follow. When you say, I think we might go there, they say, that's a great idea, let's go there.

When you say, I don't think we ought to do that, they say, you know, I thought that was a super idea, let's not do that. So to aspire to leadership is not wrong. What we need to do when we're thinking in these terms, though, is, in concurrence with what we said last Sunday evening, think in terms of service, don't think in terms of status. And the responsibility is the responsibility of being an overseer. That word is episcopoi here, from which you get episcopal. The synonyms are presbuteroi, from which you get presbyter, as most of us know, and poimen, from which you get shepherd or pastor. So the word pastor, presbyter, bishop, overseer, elder, or any other synonym you might think of are all used to describe the same task. And the distinction that we'll come to in chapter 5 between those who are set apart and receive remuneration for the fulfilling of the task and those who do not but serve in their normal work-a-day routine still as elders, the distinction there has nothing whatsoever to do with a higher standard or a lower standard or a greater status or a lesser status, or somehow or another that if you're not paid for it, you don't have to have the same qualifications as if you're paid for it.

The bad news is, you gotta do it, and you're held to the same qualifications. And you don't get the luxury of studying your Bible every day, to that degree. That's why those of us who do get the luxury of our Bible every day jolly well better study our Bible every day. Otherwise, why would anybody set money aside to provide us the privilege if we ended up spending our time as office managers or administrators instead of being pastors and teachers, as the Word calls us to be? You will notice that it is a task. It's a noble task, but it's still a task. That task is just another word for a job. If you desire to be an overseer, you desire a noble job. It's a task. Don't kid yourself. You don't know that?

We can help you. Verse 2, What should mark this overseer? Well, he should be above reproach. Above reproach. In other words, he is not to be open to attack or criticism in terms of his Christian life in general and in terms of the characteristics which now follow. There's a sense in which a colon after reproach might be quite helpful, and then we might view these other characteristics as an explication of what it means to be above reproach. Someone says, Well, what does it mean to be above reproach? Well, they say, Well, it's the husband of one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, and so on.

It is a comma, it's not a colon, but you might think of it in that way. Again, we should note that it doesn't mean perfect. But it does mean that no one, either within the church or out with the church, is able to point to an open, flagrant violation that is an endemic part of the individual's character that is consistently there, about which he is unrepentant, from which he refuses to move, and he believes that he can continue in his own merry way and still fulfill the role of eldership.

Let me give you a classic illustration. Somewhere down closer to the city, some gentleman had decided that he liked a lady in the choir better than he liked his wife. First of all, he started by lying about it, and then he fessed up to it, and after he fessed up to it, he tried to get a little group within the church to keep him as the pastor. And he had all these meetings and dialogues and back and forth to see whether he should stay or whether he shouldn't stay. And some quoted the Constitution, and some quoted the American Constitution, and some quoted books and all manner of stuff, but there wasn't a single soul who quoted 1 Timothy chapter 3 verse 2.

If they had done, it would have been a very short meeting. Goodbye, Charlie. Thanks a lot. Don't let the door hit you on the way out. You're done.

Because it is glaringly inconsistent. You can't do this and say you're above reproach. It would be the same thing if your name kept appearing in the newspaper, that every year you never paid your taxes, and you just kept amassing and amassing and amassing a big tax bill. And it was a bit of a joke. You know, people said, Oh, let's look in the plain dealer and see if he's in again. And people said, There he is again.

Well, you're done. Because there's not any reproachability about you. Now, again, we're not saying perfection.

Trap the commentator, who is a wonderful old guy—I mean, very old, he's dead—but he says some wonderful things. He said, Every faithful pastor must be such as against whom no just exception can be laid, no gross fault objected. Involuntary failings and unavoidable infirmities have a pardon, of course, both with God and with all good men. So in other words, he's distinguishing, as you rightfully must do, because otherwise the quest is for perfection.

He distinguishes in between gross faults, justifiable glaring exceptions, and involuntary failings and unavoidable infirmities. Now, the challenge in this, of course, is who's setting the beam? And there's always a difference when we're setting it for ourselves or setting it for somebody else.

And the same thing happens. For example, just recently somebody wrote to me from the radio program to say what a bad pastor I was. Now, I understand that, and it was, you know, kind of nice to have it reinforced, but the point of emphasis in this letter was the story that I told to you folks concerning the sixty-four-dollar pizza, if you will remember, which had to do with a speeding ticket in Sugar and Falls, followed by my desire to reroute the traffic flow in the center of Solon.

So they wrote to say, one, if you were a proper, decent, one Timothy 3-2 pastor, one, you wouldn't have got a speeding ticket, two, you wouldn't have tried to cut through the thing, and three, you would have been appalled that your congregation laughed when you told them. Now, what do I say to that? I say, Whoo! And I listen. And you know, maybe that's right. But it was honest.

You know, I could have pretended to you that I didn't speed, and I didn't cut through, and I never once thought of telling lies to the cop when he caught me. Then you might have been tempted to think that not only do I wear this black suit when I'm preaching, but I wear it to my bed, and that I have my house set up in the stations of the cross, and that I'm really, really, really weirdly holy. You're listening to Truth for Life. That is Alistair Begg reminding us that what we're looking for as we look for people to lead local churches is not absolute perfection, but godly character.

We'll hear more from Alistair tomorrow. Here at Truth for Life, we teach the Bible every day. In fact, our singular mission is to open the Bible each day so that all who listen will come to a better understanding of God's Word, what it teaches, how to apply it in our lives.

And we do this, of course, with God's help, trusting that his Spirit will do the work to convert unbelievers, to deeply establish those who already believe in their faith, and to encourage pastors to stay committed to teaching the Scripture. The ministry of Truth for Life is entirely listener funded. These daily programs come to you by way of many faithful listeners who we call truth partners.

These are people who are passionate about seeing others become followers of Jesus. Truth partners are a vital team of listeners, just like you, who give each month and who pray for this ministry. If you've been looking for a way to share the gospel with others, know that as you give to Truth for Life, you're helping deliver sound biblical teaching to a worldwide audience. So if you've been listening to and benefiting from this program, will you become a truth partner today?

You can sign up through the mobile app or online at slash truth partner or call us at 888-588-7884. One of the ways we say thank you to our truth partners each month is by making available two books that we recommend. Today we are highlighting a book called How Christianity Transformed the World. We realize we're living in a time when the perception of Christian values isn't necessarily favorable. The truth is Christian values have shaped our modern world in a positive way. The book How Christianity Transformed the World profiles some of the men and women from throughout the centuries who have influenced education, medicine, philanthropy, and human rights. The book provides an historical overview of how Christians and Christian beliefs have shaped our contemporary culture.

Request the book How Christianity Transformed the World when you become a truth partner or when you give a one-time donation at slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. Thanks for listening today. When choosing church elders, there are certainly virtues we should be looking for, but it's equally important to be on the lookout for vices to be avoided. Find out more about that tomorrow. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-22 05:22:15 / 2023-05-22 05:31:12 / 9

Get The Truth Mobile App and Listen to your Favorite Station Anytime