In an earlier post, I looked at what the Bible says concerning the meaning of an elder. In this post, I will consider what an elder’s calling and character is like.
It is the duty of an elder to lead (1 Tim. 5:17; Heb. 13:17), teach (1 Tim. 3:2; 5:17), and shepherd (Acts 20:28-30; 1 Thess. 5:12-13; 1 Tim. 3:5; James 5:14; 1 Pet. 5:1-2) the congregation in a local church. The elders are from the congregation and are given the task of an under-shepherd who will one day give an account to the Chief Shepherd of the church (Heb. 13:17; 1 Pet. 5:4).
It is important to understand what an eldership is and what God’s intention for the church’s leadership is. It is the duty of the elders to care for the congregation and it is the duty of the congregation to respect and submit to the elders (Heb. 13:17). This brings us to our passage in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. In this passage we will consider two aspects of the position and function of an elder – the calling of an elder (1 Tim. 3:1) and the character of an elder (1 Tim. 3:2-7).
The Calling of an Elder 1 Tim. 3:1
Verse 1 contains the second of five “trustworthy” sayings (1:15; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Titus 3:8). Each of these contains an important pithy truth that was familiar to the redeemed. He proceeds to say, “If any aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task“. This verse provides an essential element to the calling of an elder, and that is aspiration. The word “aspires” does not refer to a selfish aspiration of power and status, but rather to the pursuit of the task of shepherding God’s flock. This is critical because as he shepherds God’s flock, it must be done with willingness and eagerness (1 Pet. 5:3). He is not driven by power, money or prestige – he is compelled to shepherd. This “desire” is “a noble task” because it is the oversight of those that Christ purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 1:18-19).
The Character of an Elder 1 Tim. 3:2-7
In verses 2-7, Paul provides a list of fifteen character qualifications of an elder. This list is not exhaustive, but provides the essential qualities of a biblical elder. When looking at a list like this, it is important to consider the following observations.
Firstly, an elder must be a male. The repetition of the masculine pronoun “he” is repeated throughout this passage and also the qualification “husband of one wife” (3:2) clearly indicates an elder is to be a male. Secondly, these qualifications have nothing to do with the man’s rank in society or his achievements. Instead, these are all descriptions of his devotion to the Lord. Finally, an elder will not be able to perfectly adhere to these qualifications, but his overall pattern will display a pursuit of these things in faithfulness. These qualifications reveal the kind of man the Lord desires to serve as an elder in the church. This is the man the church is to respect and submit to (Heb. 13:17).
The Lord Jesus Christ is the Head of the church. Within the church are a people who are gifted in unique ways so as to glorify God and edify their fellow brethren. Yet in the Lord’s design He has called for certain members to function as leaders. These leaders are the elders of the church and they have an important task to lead, teach and shepherd God’s flock.