Leadership and Life in the Household of God

Chatswood Baptist Church https://www.chatswoodbaptist.com.au

1 Timothy 3

 

What are you looking for in a leader?

When I was 12 years old, I ran for School Captain of the illustrious (read: backwater) ‘Rasmussen State School’. I didn’t win. My friend, Sam Laing easily beat me, grabbing almost all the votes. And do you know how he did it? As he walked on stage, he was playing ‘O when the saints go marching in’ on his saxophone. And then, with hundreds of interested little eyes glued on him (he’d already won really), he explained, “I wanted to start by playing the saxophone, because Bill Clinton plays the saxophone, and he’s a great President, and so I think I will be a good leader too!”

Now, even at the time, there were big problems with his logic – problems that I think the teachers were well aware of, but maybe not those with the power to vote! In retrospect however, his logic looks a whole lot worse. Bill Clinton ended up generating more scandal for his moral behaviour than any other president – perhaps even more, if you can believe it!, than Donald Trump.

But the Clinton saga actually raises an interesting question about what really makes for a good leader. You see, by the end of Clinton’s second term as president, after Monica Lewinsky had made allegations of an affair, and Clinton had denied them, then he admitted that he did have an affair with her, and then he was impeached for obstructing justice… after all this, the American public still thought he was a great leader! On the one hand, they thought they couldn’t trust him, and he would be remembered for personal scandal more than anything else… but on the other hand, he was still more popular than most other presidents have been. Does his personal character matter or not?

There’s a strange and confused demand for integrity and yet apathy towards character in our political leaders isn’t there? Barnaby Joyce was forced to step down due to his affair. And just in the last few weeks, the NSW opposition leader Luke Foley has resigned due to the allegations made about sexual harassment. Obviously moral failure, especially when it comes to sexual misconduct or questions over financial dealings, is taken as a big deal – it’s unacceptable. And yet, good character is not really what people seem to be looking for in a leader. All the leadership changes we’ve had here in Australia in the last decade – the revolving door of prime ministers – all these changes don’t really seem to have anything to do with character. Australians don’t elect prime ministers based on who is the most loving, godly, wise and pure candidate. And that’s certainly not what’s motivating our political parties to keep swapping party leaders! The polls reward leaders with charisma, vision, promises to give us more money and promises to keep undesirable people away. And political parties just seem to follow the polls…

 

Now whether or not the personal lives of our political leaders should be scrutinised, the Bible makes it very clear that character should always be our central concern when appointing leaders for God’s church. It creates big problems for the church and damage to the cause of the gospel when we choose leaders for the church based more on popularity, vision and charisma than on proven godly character and biblical conviction. Character and conviction are central for leadership in the church, because leading God’s people revolves around issues of belief and character. The very purpose of Christian leadership is to promote right belief and godly living – lives transformed through faith in the true gospel. And so the very task of leadership cannot be disconnected with the lives our leaders live.

1 Timothy 3 makes a big deal about placing some strict boundaries around who is suitable to be appointed in a position of responsibility and leadership in the church. And it helps us appreciate why these boundaries are so important. It’s all about our identity and calling as God’s people, which is to protect and proclaim the truth of the gospel and live out the godliness revealed in Christ Jesus. Ultimately this passage is about what God wants for all of us as his church, with the particular focus on what that means for who we appoint into positions of responsibility and authority.

 

Overseers and Deacons

So you can see that the bulk of our passage today is a set of requirements for those who serve as overseers and deacons in the church. Paul lists a whole bunch of things that overseers and deacons must be or must not be – requirements or things that would disqualify someone from serving in these roles.

What are these roles and why is Paul mentioning them? These are the two basic kinds of leadership roles, or formally appointed positions of responsibility, within the church that we see in the New Testament. There are all sorts of roles and giftings amongst God’s people designed to build up the church in faith and maturity and see the gospel spread into the community, but in terms of appointed roles or positions of authority, these are the only two roles. The New Testament letters also speak of elders, pastors and teachers, but when you read over all these passages carefully, it is clear that these are all just one basic role, with different labels for what Paul means here by an overseer. And the distinction, which is revealed first and foremost in Acts chapter 6, is that the elders (or overseers) are those who bear the primary responsibility for teaching the Scriptures and encouraging obedience to the Scriptures, and that their authority over the church is bound up in this responsibility; whereas the deacons are those who attend to the daily and practical needs of the church. The word ‘deacon’ literally just means servant (‘deacon’ really is just the Greek word for servant!), although because of passages like ours today, Acts 6 and particularly Philippians 1:1 (where Paul refers specifically to the overseers and ‘servants’), we are confident that it was an appointed position of responsibility.

 

And so now, in his letter to Timothy, after having discussed appropriate behaviour and roles for men and women as they gather as the church, Paul turns to emphasize that anyone who aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. And therefore, he writes, it is necessary for an overseer to be above reproach. The nature of the office and the job requires the person filling it to be above reproach. Obviously, Paul is not requiring sinless perfection, but he’s saying they cannot be a public liability! Above reproach means their behaviour and their interactions with other people is not open to accusations of moral failure. It’s actually what the public does want for political leaders, and Paul’s saying it’s vital for an overseer of the church. This is the basic requirement, which he then goes on to fill out with all sorts of specific examples.

And top of the list is ‘faithful to his wife’, which means at very least someone who isn’t running around committing adultery, but also carries the idea that they don’t give up their vows and divorce their wife because they’re dissatisfied or dissolutioned with marriage. The phrase in Greek is ‘a one woman man’, which is neat way of getting at both these ideas. Now Paul’s not requiring a pastor or overseer to be married, nor is he requiring them to have children in his comments down in verse 4. These requirements are circumstantial. IF someone is married or has children, then this is the expectation…

Then follows a handful of phrases all getting a similar idea, someone who inspires respect and confidence because of their measured, level headed, self-controlled behaviour. Not someone who flies off the handle every time something goes wrong or someone offends them. Paul also expects an overseer to be hospitable – someone who is known to welcome people into their home, not just their close friends and family, and provide for the basic needs of others.

Then Paul slips in ‘able to teach’. It might just be listed along with everything else, but it’s significant for a few reasons. First, it’s the only thing that doesn’t relate to character or good reputation in the whole list. Second, Paul doesn’t mention it for deacons – their requirements relate purely to character and reputation – it’s a distinctive requirement for overseers or elders. And thirdly, when Paul writes to Titus about appointing elders (whom he also calls overseers!) in Crete, he explains that along with very similar character requirements, ‘He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.’ (Titus 1:9) An overseer must be able to teach biblical truth effectively and expose false teaching, because it’s a core responsibility of the role.

In verse 3 follows a number of problematic behaviours that an overseer cannot be characterised by – given to drunkenness, not violent (but instead gentle – just to be clear!), not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. A man who’s regularly drunk, violent, quarrelsome and chasing after more and more money is simply not a suitable elder or overseer in the church. Such a person is hardly ‘above reproach’.

 

What’s the point of these lists?

Now at this point you might be thinking… isn’t this a pretty low bar? Aren’t these guys meant to be models of godliness to the whole church? But a lot of the requirements here seem pretty basic don’t they? We expect more from members of our youth group! Imagine putting a job ad for a new senior pastor and writing. “Looking for passionate and gifted leader and teacher. Ideally would not be given to bouts of drunkenness, fits of violence, constant quarrelling with others or constantly chasing more money.” And when we get down to deacons, from verses 8-12, now 3 out of a total of 7 requirements are focused on these major vices: not indulging in much wine, not pursuing dishonest gain, and faithful to his wife. Now obviously, Paul has more to say, but… shouldn’t we be aiming higher than this??

It becomes even more striking when you compare these lists with what allChristians are called to in the Bible simply for being Christian! Just consider this tiny sample from the NT:

offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” (Rom 6:13)

offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God… Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Rom 12:1-2)

 ‘I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.’ (Eph 4:1-2)

 ‘Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people.’ (Eph 5:1-3)

These are just tiny handful of verses out of many similar ones, urging all of us simply on the basis of our faith in Christ towards profound and striking lives of love and holiness. The bar seems higher for being a Christian than being an overseer… what’s the deal?

Well there’s a few aspects to this, but essentially Paul is making it clear that within the context of urging all Christians towards love and holiness, there is a non-negotiable boundary of observable, provable behaviour and characteristics required for leaders. Did you notice pretty much all the requirements Paul lists here for overseers and deacons are focused on external, observable behaviour? It’s about being ‘above reproach’, rather than a perfect human being inside and out. Not because what’s in your heart doesn’t matter – it matters more than anything else! But I can’t really see what’s in your heart and you can’t see in my heart, can you? You can however see whether I tend to be given to drunkenness, violence and quarrels. You can see if I am actually hospitable and behave in a respectable, temperate way. These are all things than can be observed and confirmed in the life of a potential elder or deacon – things than can either qualify or disqualify them from the role.

You see the goalfor all Christians might be high – ultimately perfection! – but the baris actually very low. The bar is consistent repentance and faith, no matter how messy your life is and how much you struggle to be free from the clutches of sinful habits and attitudes. But there is a real bar for being appointed as a leader or official servant in God’s church. At this point, trying hard and good intentions aren’t really enough, as harsh as that sounds. You need to be above reproach. In some senses, this is really a list about who is notsuitable to be a deacon or an overseer in the church isn’t it?

And it’s not just because the leaders need to set a good example – it’s because of the damage that can be done when leaders in the church are notabove reproach. If people get up in arms when a politician is found out to have committed sexual harassment or embezzled funds, the reaction is far stronger and the consequences far more damaging when it’s in the church. I don’t need to list names. There are countless examples out there, and it’s devastating. I’ve read the stories of how churches are destroyed by a pastor having an affair, or a youth pastor becoming involved with one of the youth, or a treasurer stealing church funds. Christians become disillusioned when the people who taught them the faith and called them to a life of obedience seem to be nothing but hypocrites in the end.

This is why it’s so important the church be careful about who they appoint into positions of authority and responsibility. That’s why there’s such a focus on potential deacons and overseers demonstrating through their daily lives to be sincere, respectable, and self-controlled people – that they show themselves to be suitable. That’s why Paul talks about the importance of managing households and children well – in a manner worthy of respect. It instils confidence that they are suitable for this role, rather than showing that there are quite possibly some significant problems. Paul even points out that the character and behaviour of a deacon’s spouseis important!

Just as a side note, it’s worth appreciating that whilst Paul writes here assuming deacons would be most likely male, just like they’d most likely be married and have children, there’s no reason why a female can’t be appointed as a deacon in the church. Last week we looked at the issue of whether it’s appropriate for women to take on authoritative teaching roles in the church, and for the reasons Paul outlines there I would argue that the Bible requires overseers to be men, and for the same reasons that it’s perfectly fine for women to be deacons  – and to teach, serve and lead in all sorts of ways for that matter!

Now all this is not about demanding perfection or assuming someone must be a bad father or husband if their family isn’t perfect. No, it just underlines that Paul’s really serious about these roles being undertaken only by people who will not bring the gospel or the church into disrepute. And that’s really what’s underlined in verses 6 and 7 isn’t it – they can’t be recent converts and they have to have good reputations, otherwise there’s just too much risk of things going wrong – for the leader in question, for the church and ultimately for the cause of the gospel.

 

Conduct in the household of God, for the sake of the gospel (v14-16)

After emphasising these requirements for overseers and deacons, Paul then steps back in verses 14 to 16 to explain the bigger picture of why he is writing all this. And this section reminds us that all these requirements for leaders are not just for the sake of ‘looking good’ to the outside world. The godliness and character of church leaders is important because of who we are and our calling as the church, which all revolves around the mystery of God revealed in Christ and proclaimed in the gospel.

 

Life in the household of God

Paul explains in verse 14 that he’s writing all this – the whole letter really – even though he hopes to come soon in person, because if he’s delayed in coming, he still wants Timothy and the whole church to be clear on how people should conduct themselves in God’s household.

Now all households have expectations for how to behave don’t they? And it’s important to be clear about these things and to abide by them – it keeps us functioning harmoniously and according to the values of the household.

One of the issues in our household is that we don’t really have a consistent rule about whether shoes should be on or off inside the house. Or, perhaps it’s more accurate to put it as Anna explained to someone the other day, “Everyone except Matt takes their shoes off…”

But something we are clear about is how we should relate and speak to each other.

Anna and I produced a list of 5 core rules for the house with the kids a while back, which give us a solid basis for encouraging certain behaviours and warning or even punishing for other behaviours. Rules like, ‘speak nicely to each other – no rude or nasty speech’, ‘be gentle with each other – no hitting and hurting’, and ‘stay in your seat while you’re eating’. When the kids ‘conduct themselves’ according to these household rules, it’s great – we even consider having more kids! And when they don’t (or when we don’t!), it’s not so great.

Paul is saying that it is important to know how to behave, to conduct ourselves, in the household of God. There are ‘rules’ – not laws that must be obeyed to earn forgiveness of even keep your spot in the family; but guidelines and expectations for how to relate, and order ourselves in a way that is fitting and good for God’s family. The larger context of this comment is of course the corrupting influence of the false teachers, with their misguided ideas and obsessions, the quarrels produced by their obscure teachings, and their low moral standards. Their behaviour is not in line with what’s good and acceptable in God’s household, and it’s causing the church community as a whole to lose their way.

 

Because of who we are

And this is serious. It’s a problem, because of what the local church is. It’s not just a ‘club’ or a community organisation. It’s the church, or the gathering, of the living God – the community gathered out of darkness to belong to him and to serve him in holiness and to experience his glory. And this gathering, this community, has the privileged role of holding onto and holding out God’s truth in this world. Paul explains that the church of the living God is the pillar and foundation of the truth – or perhaps better translated ‘a’pillar and foundation of the truth. The health and purity of the church is vital, because the church is the champion of the gospel of Jesus Christ – the truth of God, held out to a world weighed down by lies and empty promises. And as we know, we can’t separate our message from our actions or lives can we? By our conduct we either confirm and promote the integrity of our message, or we undermine it – perhaps lose hold of it all together.

And then at this point, as Paul reflects on our great calling and identity as the church, he can’t help but reflect on the very source of the truth and godliness that defines us. ‘Beyond all question, the mystery of godliness is great’ he writes, referring to the great plan of God, once a mystery or secret, but now revealed in Christ. Paul then seems to quote from a hymn or poem about Christ:

He appeared in a body, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

This short section of a hymn or poem about Christ follows the overarching narrative of his incarnation as the eternal son of God in the flesh, destined to suffer for us in the flesh, then his vindication by the Spirit in his resurrection and his triumph over the spiritual powers, then the present realities of Christ being preached among the nations and believed on throughout the world as he is himself taken up into heaven in glory. And whilst there’s heaps of theology loaded into each of these phrases, which we could discuss for hours!, the reason Paul says this here is to draw us back to the profound realities we base our calling, identity and truth on as the church. It’s all about Jesus – his incarnation, his life, his death and resurrection, his glory, and the forgiveness and life proclaimed in his name. Jesus himself is the source of the truth and godliness we are called to. He is the one who calls each of us to know and champion the truth, and to embrace a life of holiness and love in his name.

 

And I think in the end this is where this passage connects with each and every one of us. Yes, all of us who belong to the church need to hear and apply carefully Paul’s instructions about who is and isn’t suitable for leadership, because as we’ve seen – these decisions will end up having a big impact on the church as a whole and our ability to live out our calling and identity in the world. So yes, that message is key. But each of us also needs to hear the calling to embrace a life of godliness ourselves don’t we? All the concern about leaders is, in the end, to protect and promote the faith and godliness of us – the church; of each and every one of us.

What’s the point of worrying about who is and isn’t a deacon if we won’t take seriously the call to love and holiness ourselves? This is the life made available in Christ – the life he calls you to. And through this passage, God is reminding you just how much he cares about the life you live – the decisions you make, the reputation you establish through your speech and conduct. We are the household of God, the assembly of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. How we live and what we say matters. So let’s take it seriously, together.