by Rev. Lance Filio
Nobody wants to receive discipline. I remember growing up, whenever we are being disciplined by older people in the church, I find correcting appalling. Considering I saw myself to be a well-behaved child, I did not want to receive reprove.
Growing up to be an adult did not change my disposition towards discipline. I may have been good at hiding it but it still resent it. I needed the grace of God to change my heart of stone to a heart of flesh. God had to regenerate my heart to have faith in him. He influenced my mind to receive his law, not to be right with him on my own but in Christ sanctifying my soul. Obedience has become a delight rather than a burden.
Depending on your background, discipline maybe a positive or negative word for us. If we grew up in a strict household, we may resent it in childhood and vowed to be loose when we reach adulthood. If we grew up in a loose household, we may see discipline as optional or not important to the family life and by extension to church and society. Our upbringing influences our view regarding discipline which is why when it is being discussed in the church, our parenting style influences our sentiments. But is this what Scripture prescribes? Was it clear with discipline, correction, and rebuke?
Judgment starts at the house of God wrote Peter (2 Peter 4:17) and stricter judgment falls on those who teach wrote James (James 3:1). As children of God, our Father calls us to welcome discipline. Discipline is part of the Christian life (Hebrews 12:11). We will continue our study of the Biblical Qualifications for Men in Office and we will start with on the negatives, the prohibitions which are grounds for disciplining an overseer. We will examine the character needed to fulfill leadership roles, or as Paul puts it “ruling well”. An overseer is not abusive. He is not self-seeking. As a leader, an overseer rules well with gentleness and who is mature in his conduct towards others.
This is what we will hear preached at this Lord’s Day morning. Based on the qualifications set by Paul in 1 Timothy 3. We will hear three points: (1) Office-bearer Misconduct (2) Elders Ruling Well (3) Maturity towards Members and the rest of the World.
Let us read the first verse we will expose this morning. 1 Tim 3:3 says: “not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.” So the first prohibitive act of abuse we should not allow in an overseer is towards alcohol or wine. He should not be a drunkard. Proverbs warned us about substance abuse.
Who has woe? Who has sorrow? Who has strife? Who has complaining? Who has wounds without cause? Who has redness of eyes? Those who tarry long over wine; those who go to try mixed wine. (Proverbs 23:29-30)
An overseer should not tarry along wine. It does not matter whenever not you are a regular drinker or only a social one, the prohibition against drunkenness is clear. We should consider it important for an overseer to perform his duty well he should have a sound mind. He should be able to be alert and protect Christ’s church at all times and he will fail in such a task when he allows any substances to take control of him. We should look for a sober-minded overseer who abuses none of the substances that would impair his judgment. Ancient or modern, people inside and outside the church abuse wine or alcohol. We should allow not allow an overseer enslaved by anything. We should discipline anyone found to be abusing alcohol.
Instead, we should follow the admonition of Paul when he wrote in Ephesians 5:18-21: “And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” An overseer must be given to wine but with the work of the Holy Spirit. He should be under the influence of God’s presence and not with alcohol. But does this mean wine per se is evil and should be considered as a sinful substance?
Paul warns us about the abuse of alcohol and not the proper its use. Stated positively, we should consider wine as a good gift from God and we drink to celebrate the goodness of creation. The produce of good wine makes the heart glad says the Psalms 104:14-15. Wine as one element of the Lord’s Supper points to its proper use. We will drink wine until Christ’s second coming. We can enjoy wine as a product and even Paul prescribed the use of wine to improve Timothy’s weak stomach (1 Tim 5:23). Again, we are not to abuse wine but only encourage its proper use. We cannot be wiser than God and his Word. We should hold on this view about wine in according to Scripture.
Next, physical and verbal abuse are behaviors we should not allow an overseer. The next prohibition Paul used in this verse means literally “not a striker” at the same he should not be “quarrelsome”. He should not let his anger gets the best of him. Men, in their masculine composition, is physically powerful. But we should not allow a strong emotional drive to take control. Any abusive behavior in their action and even in speech is again ground for discipline in an overseer. We may say do not engage in any physical abuse but how about in our speech or in what we say? Paul warns us: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you (Eph 4:29-32).” Abusive speech creates strife and division in the body of Christ. Overseers are builders and not destroyers of the church of Christ. We should not allow such behavior in the church.
Excursion: First, does this mean we should not discipline our children and when necessary use physical correction? No. Scripture positively states the use of the rod to discipline our children (Proverbs 13:24). Again, we cannot be wiser than God and let us follow Scripture as a whole. Second, does this mean the state or government cannot use physical means to control society? No. the sword belongs to the government to use for disciplining its citizens (Read Romans 13). But can we use the same physical means in the church? Again, no. We allow the Holy Spirit to work in the hearts of men. It is the spiritual means that Christ uses to discipline his body.
Last, an overseer should not abuse power. The word used here by Paul was “not a lover of money”. Money is a means to gain material power and this power when abused leads to many evils. It naturally attracts men to power and authority. They are easily tempted to occupy any seat of power therefor any position of power is attractive to them. Most would want a position of power because of the prestige and privileges that come with it, not the responsibility it entails. Therefore, we should not allow men who abuse power or desire to be an overseer for material gain. These men are detectable. They want to be served and not to serve. They put themselves first and not the congregation. They are self-seeking and not servicemen.
In summary, we should not allow an overseer to have abusive behaviors and tendencies. He should not abuse any substance and he should not be abusive in his action and in his speech. He should not be self-seeking and indulge in material gain or abuse power.
Elders Ruling Well
The first ability stated by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 is “able to teach”. As explained last week, an overseer should be able to teach but aside from teaching, he should also rule well. Ruling well is the second of two abilities set by Scripture. This is one of those characteristics that Paul explained the grounds for saying so. He spent two full verses to explain it:
“He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?” (verses 4-5)
The logic is simple. The one faithful in small things can be faithful in bigger things. Jesus himself said: “One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much (Luke 16:10).” We cannot expect an overseer to lead an entire church composed of several families when he cannot even lead his own. It is simply not wise. His capability to lead should match by his desire. No amount of availability that can trump capability. We cannot delegate the authority of leadership to someone who is always there but unable to rule well his own family. The operative word describing the rule is “well”. Men will naturally lead his own family but does he rule them “well”. Rev. A.A. Allison wrote: “A man who does not rule himself well, but seeks to rule others or expects them to govern themselves, is a hypocrite. He will lose the respect of others and cannot rule over anything well.”
An overseers rule should not be abusive but gentle. This is the attitude that accompanies this ability to rule. There are many who can keep his children and wife submissive and we may mistake this as something that satisfies the requirement set by Scripture: “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive”. However, this can be done in a manner that is violent, abusive and self-seeking. An outward compliance of submission is not the goal but an internal quality wrought by the Holy Spirit. The rule of an overseer must be with a gentle spirit.
Gentleness is a quality produced by the Holy Spirit. As characteristic expected of all believers, an overseer should be spirit-controlled above all. This is the mark of a true leader of the church, he lived under the influence of the Holy Spirit and the first essential quality we should expect from him is the gentleness of his rule over others. An overseer should not be abusive but must be gentle in his rule. And because he also possesses the authority of teaching his congregation, he should be able to conduct himself with gentleness especially in correcting others. Paul again reminded us when he wrote: “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Opponents must be gently instructed, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will (2 Timothy 2:24-25).”
An overseer should gentle in his rule. This leads us to final two requirements set by Paul.
Maturity towards Members and the rest of the World
Overseers should be mature. Which means he cannot be a recent convert. Why? Because a recent convert does not yet possess the gentleness a mature Christian will naturally have. He is also susceptible to abusive tendencies specifically with power. We often hear an old saying: “Power corrupts; Absolute power corrupts absolutely” And this is true especially when someone new to power. Intoxicating as wine, the influence, and prestige, and power that position of leadership brings makes men want to have more. Which is why Paul clarified that time and experience should season our leaders. Paul wrote: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
We need to select our leaders carefully. Why? Because we should not allow men hungry for power and prestige to take over the leadership of the church, instead we select men who can serve the church with gentleness and maturity. He can display maturity in service not only in his conduct towards his congregation but also to the rest of the world. Paul ended with this requirement: “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.” Why? Because of office of an overseer is a public office and not a private one. We may expect from him godly living in his household but we should also hold him accountable for his conduct in public. No one should be able to charge an overseer any public wrong doing or he will smear the name of Christ and his church. We should remove anyone in office who are not “well-thought by outsiders” wrote Paul. We cannot be wiser than God. We should allow God to rule over us according to his Word.
We may think why the strict requirement for leaders in the church? Practically, so we can discourage unqualified men to take office. The high standard of attitudes and abilities will bar those who are not qualified and discourage any temptation for the congregation to compromise. The requirements are unquestionably clear and anyone in the congregation to wants to lower the standard can be corrected and rebuked. The clear high standards of Scripture in terms of the behavior and conduct of its overseers will be grounds for disciplining anyone who will err. We sometimes pay lip service the inspiration of Scripture (2 Tim 3:16-17) if we only see it positively to reinforce good behavior but not willing to accept the responsibility to correct bad ones. Sola Scriptura directs how congregation select their leaders. Last, the high standards encourage godly living. It means that when these qualifications are present in men of congregation, the Holy Spirit is working in that church. Holiness is the standard of godly living. God is holy, and he also calls us to be holy.
Why would anyone want to be an overseer and subject himself to the discipline and scrutiny of living a godly life? I know there are those who specialize in extremes sports, endanger their lives and live under hostile conditions but why would anyone in the right mind like to have this difficult life inside the church? Because Christ, our great Shepherd, compels us to do so. He calls us to suffer in Him. (1 Peter 4:13) Christ shares his glory (Romans 8:17). This is the life Paul wanted for himself and encourages others to follow: I may know him and the power of his resurrection and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death (Phil 3:10). So we end this preaching with the gospel and be reminded again that in anything that Christ called us to do, he has done for us and he will do in us through the Holy Spirit. This is not legalism but gospel-grounded living. Do we hear Christ call to serve his church? Then let us prepare to live a life of suffering in service.
Again, An overseer is not abusive of any substance, speech and action, or even material gain or He is not self-seeking. As a leader, an overseer rules well with gentleness and who is mature in his conduct towards others.
May the Lord continue to discipline his church in accordance to his Word. Let us hear his call to service. Amen.