The character of church leaders
Character is important. We often see our church learners stumble ethically and morally. We see their ministries deteriorate. In 1 Timothy 3:17 we read about Paul’s qualifications for church leaders.
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1). Then he says: Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his 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, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full 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.
How should we apply this list? We shouldn’t look at it as a checklist. There are 14 specific qualifications in this list. If we use it as a checklist, we use a law-bound interpretation that may be in conflict with the heart of the text.
The warnings about marriage and parenting don’t disqualify unmarried men from the ministry. Does faithful to his wife automatically mean that divorced men don’t qualify for the ministry? In Paul’s day polygamy would’ve been disqualified. It also emphasises faithfulness within marriage.
A few things become clear from this text:
1. God looks at the heart
God confirms this truth to Samuel when he appoints David as Saul’s successor. Words like faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled and respectable emphasise God’s expectation that a leader should be pure of heart.
2. Family matters
Leaders should be models of a spiritually healthy family life. Faithful to his wife, he must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. This is God’s expectations. The leader who is a loyal spouse and manages his family well, illustrates the loyalty of Jesus and God as Father. Leaders should follow Jesus, lead their families and thereafter serve their congregations.
3. Others come first
A leader isn’t self-centred. Paul reflects this idea with the following qualifications: hospitable, able to teach, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and he must also have a good reputation with outsiders. These are the characteristics of someone who cares for others first. We serve because of God’s glory and to the spiritual advantage of others. God’s calling is for us, not about us.
4. Be responsible
Leaders who are isolated, may fall. Paul reminds us that a leader should not be given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He should also not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. Who truly knows you? Who really knows your heart? Do you allow someone to speak truth and confirmation into your life? If not, you should pray and seek this accountability with someone else. It is vital to have a loyal accountability partner who will show you your sins and help you up when you fall.
Live the gospel
None of us are perfect. If these characteristics are held up to our hearts as a light, we will surely fall short. Our righteousness doesn’t qualify us for the ministry of the gospel. Our ministry is dependent on the calling of a merciful God and not our own holiness.
We should continuously reflect on this scripture.
We should confirm our shortcomings daily.
We should aim for accountability, because we need it.
We should teach the gospel to ourselves:
We should remember that we are not good enough to be leaders. There is only One who is.
We should remember that our qualifications don’t determine our calling. Our ministry is based on Him who called us.
We should remember that our pastoral efficiency has very little to do with our obedience, but that it is rather determined by God, who gave us the gospel.
Character is important. We should strive for it. But we should also be thankful for the perfect character of Jesus Christ who called us for this honourable task.
Can I trust the Bible?
One of the questions young believers sometimes ask is whether they can believe the Bible. I don’t know much about the authors except their names and professions. Can I trust them even if I know so little about them and even if I don’t know how much of the manuscript has been changed over the past 2 000 years? There is good reason to trust the Bible.
1. The manuscripts were faithfully given down from the authors to us.
There are many copies of the Bible with cross-references to discrepancies. There are about 24 000 manuscripts. Some have their origin in the second century after Christ. There are more copies of Bible books than of any other ancient text. This confirms that the teaching of the text is the same today as it was when it was written. We can be certain that the text that was written 2 000 years ago is still the same text we have today.
2. Do we have reason to doubt the authors?
Jim Warner Wallace (Cold-Case Christianity), a detective who investigated cases of manslaughter, says that four aspects should be investigated if you want to determine the trustworthiness of an eyewitness:
Three motives cause detectives to distrust eyewitnesses:
There is no evidence that the authors of the Bible had any of these motives. They could lose everything because of their testimonies. They were trustworthy witnesses: They were present at the events, they were accurate in their reporting of both meaningful and seemingly unimportant details and there were other witnesses to corroborate their testimony.
According to the evidence we have today, most of the writers of the books of the New Testament died violent deaths because of their testimony that Jesus died at the cross and rose again and that He is alive. They knew that this story of Jesus who died and rose again would lead to their own suffering and deaths.
They wouldn’t have spread this story once the persecution began, if it wasn’t true.
3. The books in our Bible are the books that the early Christians accepted as the truth.
We often hear about how the books of the Bible were “chosen” and we hear stories about “lost” gospels. We should go back to what the early Christians used and quoted as the word of God. Although we don’t have a surviving copy of the text we have today, we have many quotations in the writings of the early fathers of the Church. Dan Wallace (Reinventing Jesus) says there are more than a million quotations from their combined works.
By 115 AD Ignatius, the Bishop of Antigone, accepted four gospels as authentic. FF Bruce, a well-known New Testament researcher, says that the establishment of the canon was actually a confirmation of the texts that were already authoritative for the early church.
The synods that classified the canonical books – the synods of Hippo Regius in 393 and at Carthage in 397 – didn’t try to introduce anything new into the church, but only codified what was already common practice. Around 140 AD Marcion compiled his own canon. Early church fathers like Irenaeus immediately rejected it. The church was handling the formation of the canon even then. With this, the available texts were studied intensively.
Christians faced this criticism to ensure that it is the truth. All this happened in line with Paul’s instruction in 1 Thessalonians 5:21-22: but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.