Imagine that you are going on an extended trip. Pretend that you are departing for several months and have to leave your children behind. You plan to eventually return and take them with you, but for the immediate future, they must remain in the care of someone else.
How carefully would you select the caretaker of your children? Would you invite just any individual to take the job? Of course not. You would screen the applicants. You would probe the personalities of the finalists. And when you narrowed the decision down to one person, you would look him or her in the eye and say, “This is my child I am entrusting to you. My flesh and blood. My heart and soul. Be diligent in your task.”
Why would you be so careful? Simple. You love your children too much to leave them in the care of the immature or ill-prepared. You don’t leave a precious child in irresponsible hands. A parent doesn’t and neither does God. The church is precious to him. Listen to what he says to elders: You must be like shepherds to the church of God, which he bought with his own blood (Acts 20:28).
What a sobering reminder! Overseers shepherd God’s greatest treasure: his church. Far more valuable than any mountain range, gold mine, or waterfall is the church of Jesus Christ. With his blood he has bought it and in his wisdom he has placed it under the care of godly men. Jesus is saying, “I am putting you in charge of my children. I have purchased them, died for them and called them. Now, you guard them. Guard them like shepherds guard sheep.”
Just as you would seek the best person available to care for your children, so the Holy Spirit seeks the right man to shepherd his church. What kind of man does he seek? What kind of man is to be ordained or set aside? Paul answers this question in 1 Timothy 3:2.
This passage serves as a flagship for the fleet of traits that follow. An elder must not give people a reason to criticize him:
A bishop must be blameless. (KJV)
A church leader must be without fault. (TEV)
A pastor must be a good man who cannot be spoken against. (TLB)
Now the overseer must be above reproach. (NW, RSV, NF.V)
For the office of a bishop a man must be of blameless reputation. (PHILLIPS)
…must have impeccable character. (JERUSALEM BIBLE)
Some grammatical observations are helpful:
1. The word must is dei in the Greek, a particle which suggests absolute necessity. No option. No negotiation. Extremely important. A transliteral reading looks like this: “It behooves, therefore, the bishop without reproach to be.”
2. It’s important to note that the phrase is in the present participle, which suggests a present state of blamelessness. This doesn’t mean he never committed a sin, or has no error in his past. It implies that in his current history, he is above reproach. In question is not what he did years in the past, but presently. Certainly not a question of what he did before he was a Christian.
3. The word for “above reproach” is anepileptos, which means “not able to be held or taken hold of”; in other words, evidence against him is insufficient for his detainment or arrest. You may accuse him but the accusations don’t stick. He leads a life unmarred by a prevailing sin, be it a vice, habit, attitude, or an event. He is beyond accusation.
Does this mean he never slips or sins? No. It means he never dwells in a state of sin that could be a reflection on the church. Does this mean his past is perfect and without blemish? No, but it does mean that any dark chapter of his past has been dealt with in such a manner that he and those closest to him have put it to rest.
I like this paragraph by Alexander Strauch, who writes:
“He is a man with an irreproachable life in the sight of others. He is free from any disgraceful blight of character or conduct. Hence critics cannot discredit his profession or prove him unfit as a community leader. Since all God’s saints are to live holy and blameless lives, since the world casts a critical eye at the Christian community, and since leaders led primarily by example, a blameless life is indispensable to the Christian elder.”1
There are two very important reasons why God seeks blameless men to lead his church: to set the right example on the inside and send the right message to the outside. So the family on the inside will be inspired and the observers on the outside will be impressed.
I can remember as a youngster having a high jump bar in the backyard. I spent many hours throwing myself over the bar, which was a cane fishing pole, and landing in the pit, which was an old mattress. I was proud of my achievements until the day my big brother and his friends came by.
They raised the bar. When they jumped, their minimum was my maximum. They began where I finished. They jumped higher than I’d ever dreamed. When they left, the bar was at a new level. And I had a new concept of what it meant to jump high. They had set a new standard.
Elders are called to raise the bar in the church. They set the example and lift the standard of what it means to be a Christian. Ideally, an elder should do for your life what my brother’s friends did for my high-jumping. Being with them should cause us to think higher thoughts and set higher dreams. The life of an elder should inspire us to raise the bar in our home life, prayer life, character, and dedication.
For that reason Peter urges elders to “…be good examples….” (1 Pet. 5:3).
If the elders set the standard, the church will follow. If the elders are cooperative, the church will be cooperative. If the elders are contentious, the church will be contentious. If the elders are hospitable, the church will be as well. If they are selfish, the church will be selfish. If they are servants, the church will be servants. If they are power-hungry and territorial, the church will be. . . well, you get the message.
And not only do they set the example for those inside, they send a message to those outside the church. An elder must have the respect of people who are not in the church so he will not be criticized by others and fall into the devil’s trap (1 Tim. 3:7).
Consider this principle: Protection reveals the price.
When you think of Buckingham Palace in London, you immediately picture the Palace Guard: the high-hatted, square-jawed, unblinking soldiers who guard the royal family. The presence of such disciplined soldiers states to any who pass: “we value who is inside.”
What if England used sloppy guards? What if they posted illkept soldiers? What if the guards snoozed at the post or passed the time reading magazines and whistling at the girls? The obvious conclusion would be that this country does not value this family.
In guarding his church, God urges us to seek the best men.
Why? Observers will make decisions about the church by the men we ask to guard it. If we appoint men of compromised faith or questionable character, critics will notice and the reputation of the church will suffer. But if blameless men lead, then outsiders will see the value of the church.
Imagine the damage it does if a man of ill-repute in the community is placed in church leadership. The men in the Lion’s Club know he’s dishonest. The folks at work know he is a jerk. His golf buddies know he’s sleeping around. Yet he’s a pastor in the church? The community will draw this conclusion: “That church must not be serious about its mission.”
Yet, on the other hand, imagine the good done for the church when those in leadership are respected by the community. Those at work know he is fair. Those in the neighborhood know he is kind. Even his competition respects his skill and judgment. When the community hears that such a man has been appointed as bishop, they will likely think, “That’s the kind of church I’d like to be a part of someday.”
Both of these reasons, by the way, help us understand why sinning elders are to be rebuked publicly (1 Tim. 5:19). An elder’s sin is more than a personal matter; it is a bad example to the entire church and a poor reflection on the entire church.
By the way, this is not a double standard. Leaders are to model the lifestyle to which all members should aspire. This is not a standard which leaders have and members don’t. It is simply a standard which leaders set so we will know we can follow.
Chapter Two: Wanted: A Few Good Shepherds from www.maxlucado.com.
Used by permission.