Studies in Titus: The Character of an Elder (1:7-8)

titus-seriesA pastor is called by God before he is called by the church. That is not to suggest that a man’s appointment to the office of “overseer” happens apart from the local church. God works to confirm His calling of a man by the church’s calling of a man. The point of the statement, rather, is to highlight that when God calls a man He has the right to set the standard. Since an elder is “God’s steward,” God establishes what kind of character this man must have. We cannot make exceptions, change the standard, or ignore his deficiencies when we call a man to the pastorate. An elder’s character is important because it reflects God’s expectations of pastors.

Paul expounds on the character of an elder both through use of negatives and positives. There are negative traits to be avoided and positive traits to be evidenced. He begins, however, with an overarching description of “blamelessness.” He writes that “an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach” (v. 7). He has already established this principle up in verse 6, the repetition of it indicates its importance. An elder is to be of such quality character that he cannot even be accused of wrongdoing. This is not a call to perfection. Again, we recognize that pastors are sinners and men. John MacArthur notes:

Paul is not speaking of sinless perfection but is declaring that leaders of Christ’s church must have no sinful defect in their lives that could justly call their virtue, their righteousness, or their godliness into question and indict them. There must be nothing in their lives to disqualify them as models of moral and spiritual character for believers under their care to emulate. They not only must teach and preach rightly but also must live rightly. (The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: Titus, 23)

The issue at heart here deals with patterns of sinfulness that disqualify of man from being “God’s steward” and lead God’s sheep astray. To further clarify what it means to be “above reproach” Paul lists what must be avoided (the rest of verse 7), and what must be evidenced (v. 8).

To be “above reproach” a man must not be “arrogant or quick-tempered.” An elder needs to think rightly about himself. He needs sober judgment about his own identity, agendas, and goodness (Rom. 12:3). A man with arrogant self-interest is not qualified for the pastorate. A man who seeks to use his platform and position to promote himself and his work is not qualified for the pastorate. A man who refuses to listen to others, be held accountable, accept disagreement, and make changes to his plans is not qualified for the pastorate. A man who is above the opinions and concerns of others is not qualified for the pastorate. Likewise, a man who loses his temper, reacts dramatically and quickly, is “hot-blooded,” or can’t control his responses is not qualified for the pastorate. At the heart of these two disqualifying traits is pure selfishness. The arrogance and the quick-temper are revelations of expectations. A man who thinks that he deserves whatever he wants, who feels entitled will not be a servant. He is not interested in being “God’s steward,” caring for God’s church, God’s plan, and God’s people. Rather, he is interested in his own agenda and believes that God’s church and God’s people are there to fulfill his vision. These are disqualifying characteristics.

It may seem strange to us to include in this negative list that a pastor should not be a “drunkard,” or “violent.” These don’t tend to be common problems in our day and age for pastors. They were likely true in ancient cultures and thus Paul writes about them here as warnings. In truth, however, they are far more prevalent today than you might think, though their manifestations are more subtle and secretive. Depression and anxiety rates among clergy are higher than the national average, leading many to believe that alcoholism may also be more pronounced than we thought. The existence of networks like the Clergy Recovery Network and others evidenced this reality. The numbers are not easy to find. Exactly how many pastors have a drinking problem is impossible to nail down, but God’s Word includes this disqualifying feature because it is a real temptation. Violence too is more common than we might think. Not only in the physical sense, but certainly verbal abuse among clergy. The number of pastors in recent years who have been forced out of their positions because of spiritual abuse, arrogance, demeaning and domineering speech is further evidence to support this. Both drunkenness and violence are disqualifying characteristics.

Finally, Paul states that elders cannot be greedy for gain. In the day and age in which we live there are far too many “pastors” who can be perfectly described this way. Private jets, mansions, and ostentatious lifestyles appear all over Christian television. Swindling and maneuvering to gain more money and assets is common among certain types of preachers. Pastors have a right to earn a living (Luke 10:7; 1 Cor. 9:11, 14), and they ought to be well taken care of by their congregations. Yet, men who seek wealth at all costs are not “God’s stewards.” In each case the disqualifying characteristics replace stewardship with selfishness. They turn the pastorate into a platform for self-fulfillment.

In place of such traits, then, Paul goes on to list the positive attributes of an elder’s character. He states that he is to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (v. 8). The man of God is to care about people and care about virtue. His personal lifestyle should reflect these loves. His own self-control, discipline, uprightness, and holiness reveal that he cares for others and cares about what is godly.

Character matters for the office of an elder. Who he is reveals how he will lead. A man of integrity will lead with compassion and godliness. A man of good moral character will love others and faithful “steward” God’s sheep. His character matters because spiritual abuse is so disastrous to the church and the testimony of the gospel. His character matters because the pastor is in a position to do terrible harm to others. His character matters because if a man is not “God’s steward,” than he will destroy the church for the sake of his own agenda. Paul outlines here what God expects of His stewards. They are to be above reproach in the ways listed here, and if they are not then they are not qualified.

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