Christians are people of the Book. One of the essential markers of Christianity is its belief in the divine revelation of God through Scripture. If, then, the church’s leaders do not have a firm grasp on this Word from God, then they will be ineffective and potentially dangerous leaders. Elders must be men of the Word.
The character qualifications that Paul outlines in the preceding verses are extremely important. They are stressed because, as we have previously said, character matters in the office of the pastorate. You cannot lead God’s church without striving to be a godly man. Yet, all the character in the world will make little difference if the man does not affirm, accept, and cling tightly to the Word of God as His source of authority and guidance. Devotion to the Scriptures is of paramount importance. Paul uses the phrase “hold firm,” to stress this. He must be fully devoted to the Scriptures, not simply to their words, but to their authority. He must submit to it and dedicate himself to knowing it and obeying it. You cannot “instruct” others, as Paul demands pastors do, if you do not first believe and surrender to these words of God.
Far too many pastors have become dependent upon programs, models, methods, and schemes in ministry. They have devoted themselves to trends and fads, the wisdom of the business world, and techniques to “win people.” They have forgotten where true wisdom comes from (1 Cor. 2:6-16). They have displaced the Spirit of God, and particularly the Spirit working through the Word of God, for the latest ministry program. They have settled for teaching the ideas of men over and against the truth of God. They have settled for pleasing people, for being trendy and cool, and have distanced themselves from the hard words of Scripture. Yet, God’s call is for men who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.” This requires that pastors commit to understand what the Word says, how the disciples communicated it, seeking to understand both the content of the Scriptures and the emphasis of the Scriptures, and surrendering to their authority.
The church should want, furthermore, men who “hold firm” because we know how tempting and enticing the ways of the world can be. Men unwilling to devote themselves to the study of Scripture are not fit for the office of the pastor. The church does not need the wisdom of men as much as the wisdom of God. We may rightly benefit from the common grace of God as spread throughout the wise teachings of men. Yet, the emphasis of a ministry, and of a man of God, and of a preacher, should be on the testimony of God himself. Search for men, church, who will be devoted to Scripture first and foremost.
The phrase “so that,” in the latter part of verse 9, connects the “holding firm” with an important purpose clause. He is to be personally devoted to the word “so that” he can (1) instruct others and (2) rebuke others. The purpose clause signifies just how important the personal devotion is. A man who simply views pastoral ministry as a job, but is not personally devoted to his own spiritual growth will not serve the church well. Paul tells us that as the Word of Christ “dwells in you richly” then we are equipped to teach and admonish others (Col. 3:16). The two functions of eldership, doctrinal instruction and discipline are outlined in the rest of the chapter. The pastor is to be the primary teacher of the congregation, in whatever formats available to him, and he is to protect the church from the intrusion of false teachers. This role of the pastor cannot be overstated, which is why his own commitment and submission to Scripture is so important.
The Word of God is the authority for the church and for the pastor. As he submits to Scripture so the church will grow spiritually. As he ignores Scripture so the church will flounder, being tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). The church desperately needs men in leadership who will “hold firmly to the Word as taught.” Without modification, adaptation, or alteration. The Elder, like all Christians, is to be a man of the book.