Titus Series: Qualifications of Church Elders (Tit 1:5-9)




Qualifications of Church Elders


The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, the husband of one wife, with faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be blameless as one entrusted with God’s work, not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain. Instead he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.

Titus 1:5-9 (NET)



What are the essential qualities of elders, and therefore the spiritually mature? In Titus 1:5, Paul says, “The reason I left you in Crete was to set in order the remaining matters and to appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.” Apparently, at some point, after Paul was released from his first imprisonment in Rome, he went with Titus to Crete to encourage believers and share the gospel with the lost. Since there were many Cretans who heard the gospel at Pentecost (Acts 2:11), it is believed they eventually returned to Crete, shared the gospel with others, and planted churches. Paul and Titus stopped there to strengthen them. It was typically Paul’s custom to set up elders in the churches he ministered to as seen in the book of Acts (14:23), but for some reason, he was not able to at Crete and therefore commissioned Titus to do it. When Paul said he left Titus in Crete to “set in order” the remaining matters, the phrase is a medical term used for resetting a broken bone. There were things wrong in Crete, and it was Titus’ job to fix them, including selecting elders in all the cities with churches. This would have been a heavy job since there were around 100 cities in Crete. Probably not all of them had churches, but no doubt, the believers there hoped to eventually plant churches in all of them.

In verses 6-9, Paul gives the qualifications of elders, which are important to understand not only to pick good leaders but also because they are qualities of spiritually mature people in general. The qualifications of elders/pastors are not going to seminary and great leadership ability, they are primarily character traits. This is important to hear because when God looks for somebody to use greatly, he calls people with character. In some sense, our character sets the ceiling on how much God can use us. In speaking about the selection of David as Israel’s future king, Samuel said: “the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart” (1 Sam 13:14 NIV). Likewise, 2 Chronicles 16:9 (NIV) says, “For the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.” When God looks for a spiritual leader, he finds someone with the right heart—the right character.


Before we consider the qualifications of an elder, we must first consider what an elder is. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul calls the leaders of churches “overseers” or it can be translated as “bishops.” In some denominations, elders, pastors, and bishops have different roles. Bishops oversee pastors in a region or a city, and pastors oversee elders at a church (or vice versa). However, in Scripture, these titles refer to the same position. We can discern this by the fact that these titles are often used interchangeably in Scripture. In Titus 1:5 and verse 7, “elder” and “overseer” (bishop) are clearly referring to the same role. In 1 Peter 5:1-2 (NIV 1984), all three terms are used:


To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder, a witness of Christ's sufferings and one who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God's flock that is under your care, serving as overseers—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve;


The same is true of Acts 20:17 and verse 28, as Paul addressed the Ephesian leaders as elders and overseers and used the verb form of shepherd (pastor).


Why are these three titles used for the same office? Essentially, they represent different qualities and roles of these leaders. “Elder” represents the spiritual maturity and wisdom of these leaders. “Pastor” is a shepherding term referring to how they care for people. “Bishop” or “overseer” refers to the oversight or rulership that comes with the office. The leadership in the early church was very simple—elders and deacons, of which the latter, Paul gives qualifications for in 1 Timothy 3:8-12. Elders should be spiritually mature people who shepherd the church.


What exactly is the elders’ job? In short:


They are to rule (1 Tim. 5:17), to preach and teach (1 Tim. 5:17), to pray for the sick (James 5:14), to care for the church (1 Peter 5:1–2), to be examples for others to follow (1 Peter 5:1–2), to set church policy (Acts 15:22ff.), and to ordain other leaders (1 Tim. 4:14).


As we consider the essential qualities of an elder, it should give us wisdom as we select or are involved in the selection of future pastors/elders. But, it also should challenge us to grow spiritually. These are qualities of any spiritually mature believer. Often when single women are seeking a mate, they are sent to this passage to consider qualities of an ideal husband. But most importantly, these are qualities of people that God often chooses to use for his kingdom—whether male or female.

As we go through the qualities of an elder, we must consider whether these qualities are in us and be challenged to grow in them. We will consider the gender qualifications of elders, the overarching qualification of being blameless, and their family, personal, and teaching qualifications.


Big Question: What are the essential qualities of an elder and how can we apply this to our church and our personal lives?


Gender Qualifications of Elders


As mentioned, first we will consider the gender qualifications of elders, as there is great controversy over this in the church. Paul teaches that the elders must be male. How do we see this? First, it is seen by the word “elder,” which literally means an “old man.” For ancient Jews, they typically had a group of mature males who would lead their communities, cities, and towns. Therefore, the Cretan Jews would have been very familiar with this concept, even though it was now being applied to the New Testament church. Also, Paul uses male terminology throughout his list. In verse 7, Paul says the elder must be the “husband of one wife.” Then, in verses 8-9, Paul says, “he must be hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must hold firmly to the faithful message…”


Though this seems pretty straightforward, many believe that Paul’s teaching in this passage is cultural or specific to the congregation of Crete. For example, in 1 Corinthians 11:1-16, Paul teaches that women should wear head-coverings in the church. Most believe that passage is cultural, and that the primary truth relayed to our context is that women should respect their husbands. In that context, by removing their head-coverings to pray and worship, the wives would be dishonoring their husbands. Therefore, the enduring truth is wives should respect their husbands as their authorities, which is what Scripture teaches in many other passages (cf. Eph 5:22-23, Col 3:18). Some believe the male pronouns used in Titus 1:5-9 are cultural as well, or specific to that congregation and, therefore should not be applied universally to churches.


Interpretation Question: What are the Scriptural arguments for women being elders?


The view that elders/pastors can also be female is called the egalitarian position. Egalitarianism would state that men and women are equal and that there is no gender-specific roles for men and women that apply to our context in Scripture. Many would even say that is true in the home as well between husbands and wives; while others believe men should still be leaders in the home but not necessarily the church. Again, they would typically say Paul’s teaching in this passage and others similar to it are cultural or specific to the churches they were written to. They would point to passages like Galatians 3:28-29, which says, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is slave nor free, there is neither male nor female —for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to the promise.” For them, since we are in Christ, gender roles have been abolished. And they would also point to other females that served in positions of leadership in Scripture, such as Deborah the prophet (Jdgs 4-5), Priscilla, the wife of Aquilla, who helped instruct Apollos (Acts 18:24-26), and Junia who some think was an apostle (Rom 16:7).


With that said, some (not all) take the egalitarian position because of a liberal view of Scripture. For them, instead of believing Scripture is without error in all that it teaches and that it is the believers’ rule of life in all areas, they often question Scripture’s teachings and reject it on certain points. Commonly, they would reject a literal interpretation of Scripture and take a more spiritual or figurative interpretation. For example, they might accept what the Bible teaches about salvation by faith alone but reject what it says about sexuality, homosexuality, male leadership, creation, miracles, and/or the resurrection, and take a more figurative view of those doctrines. Some might even reject the idea of Christ being the only way to salvation. They might be considered very similar to the Sadducees in Christ’s day. The Sadducees, though believing in the Jewish God and studying Scripture, often rejected a literal interpretation of it. This led to not believing in angels, demons, miracles, or even the resurrection. Likewise, some accept women as pastors and even homosexuals as pastors because of a liberal understanding of Scripture, which commonly rejects literal interpretations of certain verses and doctrines.


Interpretation Question: What are the main arguments for only allowing males to hold the position of elder?


The position that believes only males can be pastors and that they should be the head of their wives is called complementarianism. This is the view that males and females are equal, but Scripture teaches gender-based roles in the home and the church. In these roles, they complement one another and glorify God.


• As mentioned, complementarians base their argument on Paul’s use of male terminology, including male pronouns, in the qualifications of elders in Titus 1:6-9 and in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.


• Complementarians base their argument on how Paul forbids women from teaching males and being in authority over them in the church.


First Timothy 2:12-13 says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. For Adam was formed first and then Eve.” Similarly, 1 Corinthians 14:33-34 says, “…As in all the churches of the saints, the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.” They would point out that Paul’s instructions were apparently not just for the specific churches in Crete, Ephesus (1 Timothy), or even just Corinth. Paul says it’s for “all the churches,” and not just a few select ones.


• Complementarians base their argument on God’s creation of Adam first before Eve in Genesis which demonstrates the desired order in their relationship.


For example, in 1 Timothy 2:12-13, when Paul says, “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet. For Adam was formed first and then Eve,” he does not make an argument unique to the Ephesian church or to that culture. He makes a creation argument—“For Adam was formed first and then Eve.” Paul argues that God’s creation of Eve after Adam demonstrates his leadership over her. Adam’s leadership is also demonstrated in the fact that he named his wife (Gen 2:23, 3:20), just like he previously named the animals at God’s prompting (Gen 2:19-20). God initially called for Adam to be the leader not only of his wife but creation. His leadership is also reflected in how the New Testament says it was his sin, not Eve’s, that led to all humans becoming sinners and being under God’s judgment (cf. Rom 5:12-19, 1 Cor 15:22, etc.).


• Complementarians base their argument on the continuation of Old Testament principles in considering public worship.


In 1 Corinthians 14:34, Paul says, “the women should be silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak. Rather, let them be in submission, as in fact the law says.” When mentioning the law, he could be referring to the creation argument—that man was formed first—or more likely he is referring to the public worship of Israel. When God established the tabernacle and temple and the requirements for worship in them, the priests had to be male. They were the official leaders of Israel’s public worship. Even the Levites who maintained the tabernacle and temple and helped teach the Word needed to be male as well.


• Complementarians base their argument on males and females being made in God’s image and symbolizing the equality, submission, and perfect love in the Trinity.


In 1 Corinthians 11:3, Paul says, “But I want you to know that Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ.” Since males and females are made in the image of God, they demonstrate aspects of God’s triune nature. In the Trinity, God the Father and God the Son are co-equal, but in their relationship, there is headship, as the Son submits to the Father. In a marriage, Paul compares the woman to Christ and the husband to God the Father—the husband is the head of the wife just as God is the head of Christ (1 Cor 11:3). The husband and wife are co-equal, but in their relationship is headship, as they are made in God’s image. This headship is also seen in the male leadership of the church. In the church, males and females are equal; however, all the members are called to submit to the designated male leadership of the church (cf. Heb 13:17). This equality and submission reflect the dynamics in the Trinity.


It should also be added that there is perfect love in the Trinity (1 John 4:8), and because of that, perfect love should be demonstrated in the home and church dynamics, along with submission and authority. These are true throughout society since people are made in God’s image. When love, submission, and authority break down, relationships and society in general break down.


Though I believe the complementarian arguments are stronger, including the fact that it has been the primary view held by the church historically, this issue should not be one that believers break fellowship over. This should be considered a charity doctrine, since it does not affect the gospel and therefore one’s salvation. In love, there is room to agree to disagree. We are all working out our sanctification with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12-13), and we should be gentle with one another in that process, especially when it comes to secondary and tertiary issues of doctrine.


However, the structure of the church does seem to be another way in which we as humans reflect our Triune God. In the Trinity, there is perfect love, authority, and submission. Though the world scoffs at this, as we reflect our Triune God in the home and church, we honor and glorify him by practicing it. Therefore, though the doctrine is difficult, it is beautiful because it reflects our God. (For a fuller treatment of this issue, check out the chapters on Elders in my book BTG Ecclesiology and Male and Female in BTG Anthropology which are available on Bible.org.)


Application Question: Which view is strongest to you on whether women can serve as elders and why? Support your view with Scripture. How do humans made in God’s image reflect the Trinity’s love, submission, and authority, not only in the church and home but all society? Why is it important to maintain these Trinitarian aspects in society?


Overarching Qualification of Elders—Being Blameless (v. 6, 7)


In verses 6 and 7, Paul says the elder must be “blameless,” which can also be translated as “above reproach” (ESV). This appears to be the overarching quality of an elder because it is first on the list, and it is repeated for emphasis. It’s also the first characteristic of an elder mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. All the other qualities given by Paul demonstrate how an elder should be blameless. “Blameless” literally means “nothing to take hold upon” and has the sense of “not chargeable with some offense.” It is not referring to being sinless, for nobody can be sinless. It means that there are no legitimate concerns about this man’s life that anyone can hold up and criticize.


Application Question: Why is it so important for the elder’s life to be above approach?


John MacArthur gives several reasons:


1. First, they are the special targets of Satan, and he will assault them with more severe temptation than others. Those on the front lines of the spiritual battle will bear the brunt of satanic opposition.


2. Second, their fall has a greater potential for harm. Satan knows that when a shepherd falls, the effect on the sheep is devastating (cf. 1 Tim 4:16).


3. Third, leaders’ greater knowledge of the truth, and accountability to live it, brings greater chastening when they sin (cf. Jam 3:1).


4. Fourth, elders’ sins are more hypocritical than others’ because they preach against the very sins they commit.


Again, these are not only qualities of elders but also the spiritually mature. The spiritually mature seek to be above approach, even in areas where there is freedom. Where the spiritually immature only ask, “Is this OK?” or “Is this my right?”, the spiritually mature ask, “Will this be beneficial for me and others?” Often, they forsake their legitimate rights to not cause others to sin. Like Paul, they declare that they will not eat meat, drink wine, or do anything else if it causes a brother to stumble (Rom 14:21).


Are there any aspects of your life that the enemy or others can hold up and accuse you for? We must all seek to live above reproach because ultimately our lives either honor or dishonor Christ—they either gather or push people away from him.


Application Question: Are there any areas in your life that the enemy can take hold of to accuse you or the church? If so, how can you get free in those areas? In general, how can we maintain a blameless life?


Family Qualifications of Elders


Elders Must Be Faithful to Their Wives (v. 6)


Paul said that the elder must be “the husband of one wife.” There have been many interpretations of this throughout the centuries: Some think it means elders must be married; however, using the same logic, elders would need to have children as well, since it’s the stated next requirement (v. 6). In addition, this would disqualify Paul, Timothy, Jesus, and possibly even Titus. Others believe this forbids the practice of polygamy. Others think it disqualifies a divorced and/or remarried man.


However, most likely, it has nothing to do with one’s marital status at all. The phrase can be literally translated “a one-woman man.” It means, if he is married, he is faithful to his wife. If he is single, he doesn’t flirt with or lust after women. He is not a ladies’ man. David Guzik said, “This means that the Biblical leader is not a playboy, an adulterer, a flirt, and does not show romantic or sexual interest in other women, including the depictions or images of women in pornography.”

No doubt, one of the reasons Paul lists this is because elders are so prone to stumble in this area. Elders minister to women, even as Christ did. Often this ministry happens when they are most vulnerable. A man not walking in victory in this area will be prone to fall. The failure to be a one-woman man has probably put more men out of ministry than any other sin. It is, therefore, a very important concern.


In Proverbs, Solomon’s father warned him of the adulterous woman. He said,


Do not let your heart turn aside to her ways—do not wander into her pathways; for she has brought down many fatally wounded, and all those she has slain are many. Her house is the way to the grave, going down to the chambers of death.

Proverbs 7:25-27


Many are the victims brought down by sexual sin. Samson succumbed to sexual sin, and so did David and Solomon. In ministry, it is important to enlist those who are blameless in their relations with the opposite sex.


Again, this is not just for elders—this is true for all. It is a quality of spiritual maturity. Where a spiritually immature person might be known for being flirty and unwise with the opposite sex, the mature believer knows the dangers in this area. If they are courting, they are focused on that person and establish wise boundaries to protect them both from stumbling. If they are married, their eyes are only on their spouse, and they try to maintain appropriate boundaries with members of the opposite sex.


When God looks for a person to use for his ministry, he finds someone who is wise in their relations with the opposite sex. How are your relations with the opposite sex?


Application Question: What are good boundaries to maintain with members of the opposite sex (cf. 1 Tim 5:1-2)? How is God calling you to practice greater wisdom and restraint in your relations with the opposite sex?


Elders Must Have Faithful Children (v. 6)


Next, Paul says elders must have “faithful children who cannot be charged with dissipation or rebellion.” The word “faithful” can also be translated as “believing.” The elders’ children should be saved and not known for being unruly. If an elder cannot lead his children to Christ and help them grow in righteousness, how can he lead the church? This is essentially the same argument Paul made to Timothy about the qualifications of an elder. In 1 Timothy 3:5, Paul said, “But if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for the church of God?” Every person’s first ministry should be at home to their family (1 Tim 5:4, 8). In fact, if a person feels called to ministry but has disorder in his marriage and with his children, he should first focus on building a healthy home before pursuing ministry. This would protect many of our ministers from having homes that fall apart while serving vocationally in ministry. The fact that the terms PK and MK (pastors’ kids and missionary kids) have become synonymous with rebellion means that many in ministry should not be. If we don’t lead our family well, we should not be in leadership in the church.


With that said, there is some argument about whether Paul is referring to children at home, still under the supervision of the parents, or also outside of the home. The Greek term for “children” used generally refers to children at home, still under the parents’ authority. Certainly, how adult children turn out has something to do with our parenting, but parents should be held more responsible for children still in their home.


Application Question: Why is it so common for pastor kids and missionary kids to be known for not believing in Christ and rebellion? What are some good parenting tips to help with raising faithful children who are not known for being unruly towards God and other authorities?


Personal Qualifications


In verse 7, Paul repeats the call for elders to be blameless for emphasis and then gives eleven personal qualifications, including five negative ones—"not arrogant, not prone to anger, not a drunkard, not violent, not greedy for gain”—and six positive ones in verse 8—"hospitable, devoted to what is good, sensible, upright, devout, and self-controlled.” We’ll briefly consider these.


Elders Must Not Be Arrogant (v. 7)


“Not arrogant” can literally be translated as “not pleasing himself.” It refers to someone who is self-centered and only cares about himself. Because of this, he is harsh and critical of others. His pride leads to exalting himself and his views while putting down or ignoring others. However, Christ said true leadership is more concerned with others than themselves. In Luke 22:25-26, he said this to his disciples who were boasting about who the greatest was:


… The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those in authority over them are called ‘benefactors.’ Not so with you; instead the one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the one who serves.


Biblical leadership is servant leadership. Elders should not use their authority to rule and get others to do what they want but to serve. It’s a humble, selfless leadership instead of a prideful, selfish leadership. This should be true of us and how we minister to others including our family, friends, and co-workers. In Philippians 2:3-5, Paul said this:


Instead of being motivated by selfish ambition or vanity, each of you should, in humility, be moved to treat one another as more important than yourself. Each of you should be concerned not only about your own interests, but about the interests of others as well. You should have the same attitude toward one another that Christ Jesus had,


Amen! This characteristic should be true all of us. We should not be arrogant—focused on serving ourselves—but humble—focused on serving God and others, even as Christ was.


Application Question: How have you seen or experienced selfish, prideful, and controlling leadership in the church or other places? How does it negatively affect those under that leadership style? How is God calling you to grow in selfless, humble, and others-focused service?


Elders Must Not Be Prone to Anger (v. 7)


Paul says the elder must not be “prone to anger,” or it can be translated as “quick-tempered.” A quick-tempered person has a short-fuse and therefore is easily provoked. This is not referring to occasional outbursts, since we all have those, but a propensity to be angry with people, unforgiving, and to hold grudges. This person tends to speak and act without thinking which constantly hurts people.


It’s especially important for an elder to not be quick-tempered since those in ministry are prone to be criticized and spoken evil of. Even our Lord was criticized and hated. With Paul, the church he founded in Corinth challenged his apostleship. They criticized his physical appearance and his speaking. In 2 Corinthians 10:10, they said this about him, “His letters are weighty and forceful, but his physical presence is weak and his speech is of no account.” Most pastors experience constant criticism about their sermons and leadership decisions. However, if they absorb the evil done to them and respond in anger, it will push people away from God and the church, since the pastor is considered to speak for and represent God. In contrast, Romans 12:19-21 says:


Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. Rather, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in doing this you will be heaping burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.


In addition, 2 Timothy 2:24-26 (NIV) says:


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.


Again, these are necessary qualities for elders but also for Christians in general. Are we known for having a temper—being a hothead and unforgiving? How do we respond when criticized, mistreated, or people speak evil of us?


Application Question: Why is it important for elders to not be short-tempered? How is your battle with anger, especially when people harm you? How is God calling you to grow in handling your anger more correctly?


Elders Must Not Be Drunkards (v. 7)


Paul says that elders should not be “drunkards” or “given to wine” (KJV). The term has a literal sense of “sitting over wine,” and refers to a person who is always having a drink. Obviously, Scripture does not forbid drinking alcohol. Christ drank wine. The early church used it during the Lord’s Supper (cf. 1 Cor 11:20-21). However, Scripture does caution us about drinking, especially for leaders and forbids drunkenness. Proverbs 20:1 says, “Wine is a mocker and strong drink is a brawler; whoever goes astray by them is not wise.” Proverbs 31:4-5 says, “It is not for kings, O Lemuel, it is not for kings to drink wine, or for rulers to crave strong drink, lest they drink and forget what is decreed, and remove from all the poor their legal rights.” Also, the Old Testament priests were forbidden from drinking alcohol and so were those who took the Nazarite vow (cf. Lev 10:9, Num 6:2). Leaders need to be especially careful of wine because it can affect their decision-making and handicap their leadership, as they lose the respect of those who follow them. Ephesians 5:18 says, “And do not get drunk with wine, which is debauchery…”


In ancient times, the water was often contaminated and therefore alcohol was added to purify it. The mixed water was typically around eight parts water and one part alcohol to avoid drunkenness. Because Timothy was apparently abstaining from alcohol altogether, he was having stomach problems, and Paul tells him to drink a little wine for the constant infirmities (1 Tim 5:23).


Elders should, like Timothy, either avoid alcohol altogether—to not cause someone to stumble—or limit its use. Romans 14:21 says, “It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or to do anything that causes your brother to stumble.” Alcohol can be a major stumbling block in ministry and, therefore, must be handled with great wisdom.


Application Question: What are your views on the use of alcohol? How can believers avoid liberalism and legalism in their view or use of alcohol?


Elders Must Not Be Violent (v. 7)


“Not violent” can be also be translated “not a striker” as in the KJV. Though the Greek word originally referred to physical abuse, the meaning was eventually widened to also apply to verbal abuse. The elder should not be known for physical or verbally striking people either publicly or privately. He should not be a bully. Instead, he must be a man who trusts God to fight his battles. Again, Romans 12:19 says, “Do not avenge yourselves, dear friends, but give place to God’s wrath, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.”


We get a good picture of this in the story of David after losing his kingdom to his son, Absalom. While marching away from the kingdom, he is mocked by a man named Shimei. David’s men became angry and asked to take off his head. However, David responds, “Let him mock! Maybe, God will see his mocking and restore his blessings on me” (2 Samuel 16:9-12, paraphrase). David trusted God to fight his battles, even though he was the king and a man of war.


Obviously, a violent leader would greatly hinder God’s work in the church. But this is true for believers in general—he or she can be a cause of discord instead of peace and push people away from God instead of towards him. Not being violent is a quality of the spiritually mature.


Are you trusting God with your battles? Or are you a fighter—someone who always strikes back?


Application Question: In what ways do you struggle with being a striker? Describe a time when you left room for God’s wrath. How did it turn out?


Elders Must Not Be Greedy for Gain (v. 7)


The last negative qualification that Paul gives of an elder is “not greedy for gain.” An elder should be able to say like Paul in Acts 20:33, “I have desired no one’s silver or gold or clothing.” In fact, as a rule, ministry should not be chosen for career and financial aspirations; it should be chosen because of a desire to sacrificially serve God and others. Because of those in ministry who think “godliness is a way of making a profit” (1 Tim 6:5), Paul said this to Timothy in 1 Timothy 6:9-11:


Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains. But you, as a person dedicated to God, keep away from all that. Instead pursue righteousness, godliness, faithfulness, love, endurance, and gentleness.


Paul’s challenge to flee from the love of money does not just apply to money itself. Elders should not be materialistic in general. They should not be consumed with clothes, electronics, cars, etc. In the same context, 1 Timothy 6:6-8 says, “Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that.”


Money and the things of this world must not have a grip on their hearts. They should be men who are content and not running after every new thing. Godliness with contentment is great spiritual gain, but those who love wealth open the door for many temptations. Was it not, in part, Eve’s desire for things that led her away from God and into temptation? In the same way, all believers, not just leaders, must be careful of materialism. It can hinder spiritual growth and one’s ministry (cf. Matt 13:22).


Are you a lover of wealth? Christ commanded us not to store up riches on this earth for where our treasure is, our heart will be also (Matt 6:19-21). When God looks for someone to use, he finds someone who is content whether in plenty or lack (Phil 4:11-12). They will not be distracted from the mission by materialism. They work hard but ultimately trust that God will meet their needs, as they seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (Matt 6:33).


Application Question: Why can the love of money and wealth be so dangerous spiritually? How can we practice discipline with the riches God gives us?


Elders Must Be Hospitable (v. 8)


As mentioned, in verse 8, Paul begins to describe positive characteristics of elders. He says they must be “hospitable.” The word “hospitable” literally can be translated as a “lover of strangers.” The elder is doing ministry even before being selected for the position, which is part of the reason he is selected. His house is open to the saved and unsaved alike. Hospitality in the ancient world was not so much about entertainment; it was an expression of love, especially for those in need. It was extremely important as there were not many inns, and after traveling long distances people often needed places to stay to be protected from weather, animals, and thieves while continuing their journey. It also was important for traveling missionaries who visited and stayed in homes, as they shared the gospel. Elders should be prone to expressing their love to people in practical ways, including opening their homes and wallets for them.


Romans 12:13 says this to all believers about hospitality: “Contribute to the needs of the saints, pursue hospitality.” The word “pursue” can also be translated as “practice” or “chase.” It can mean a “strenuous pursuit.” Christians should not wait for opportunities to show hospitality—they should pursue them. This is especially true of potential elders. These are not men waiting for a ministry—these are men already doing ministry, and the church just recognizes what God is doing through them. They are already shepherds.


Similarly, when God calls for people to serve him in a greater fashion, they are already being faithful in a lesser fashion (cf. Matt 25:23). They are faithful with their church, their friendships, their job, their money, their devotions, etc., and as they are faithful, God equips and uses them in a greater way (cf. 2 Tim 2:2).

Are you pursuing hospitality? How are you practicing love for strangers?


Application Question: Why is the practice of hospitality so important? What are some ways of showing hospitality? In what ways can you grow in this ministry?


Elders Must Be Devoted to What Is Good (v. 8)


When Paul says, elders are “devoted to what is good,” it can also be translated he is “a lover of good” (ESV). Negatively, this means he hates what is evil and consequently not pleasing to God. Therefore, as a daily practice, he chooses to not fill his mind with the ungodly content that is so common on the Internet and in popular movies and music today. Positively, it means that he aims to practice Philippians 4:8-9, where Paul says:


Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is worthy of respect, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if something is excellent or praiseworthy, think about these things. And what you learned and received and heard and saw in me, do these things. And the God of peace will be with you.


No doubt, being devoted to what is good includes loving to study God’s Word, pray, worship, fellowship with and serve others. He does this because he wants to please God and bless others, but also, as Paul mentions, he wants to experience the promise of God’s presence moment by moment and nothing is worth hindering that. Sin and things that promote sin hinder our relationship with God; while thinking on and practicing righteous things prompts the “God of peace” to be with us, to experience God’s manifest presence. Like David in Psalm 27:4, an elders’ prayer and that of the spiritually mature should be: “I have asked the Lord for one thing— this is what I desire! I want to live in the Lord’s house all the days of my life, so I can gaze at the splendor of the Lord and contemplate in his temple.”


Again, this should be true of all Christians. What is hindering our relationship with God? Are we lovers of what is good? Do we hate what is sinful and displeasing to God?


Application Question: In what ways is God calling you to love what is good and hate what is evil?


Elders Must Be Sensible or Sober-minded (v. 8)


The word “sensible” can also be translated as “sober-minded.” Warren Wiersbe described the elder’s sober-mindedness this way:


He must have a serious attitude and be in earnest about his work. This does not mean he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather it suggests that he knows the value of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.


Sadly, many pulpits have been cheapened by the humor proceeding from them. Peter said that preachers should speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11)—like their words come directly from him. There is a place for levity, but not when it cheapens or removes the seriousness of God’s message.


Sober-minded believers are serious about God and faith. For many, their faith is not a priority. They are serious about many other endeavors, but faith is not one of them. Being sober-minded is another characteristic of the spiritually mature. To sober-minded believers, faith is the most important aspect of their life. It affects everything they do—they are serious about it because they realize that everything they do should be worship to God. First Corinthians 10:31 says, “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God.” Likewise, Colossians 3:23-24 says, “Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward.”


Are you sober-minded—serious about God and the things of God?


Application Question: How can a lack of sober-mindedness hinder a spiritual leader? How can we start to see everything we do as an act of worship to God?


Elders Must Be Upright or Just (v. 8)


“Upright,” can also be translated as “righteous” or “just”; however, in this context, it probably refers to the elder being fair and impartial in his dealing with others. He is not partial to the wealthy or popular and does not mistreat the poor or the common. He is able to listen carefully, weigh the facts, and make sound, unbiased judgments, especially when counseling people or making decisions for the best of the church. He is also just in that he is a person of integrity. His yes means yes and his no means no. He is outward life is the same as his unseen life.


Elders Must Be Devout or Holy (v. 8)


“Devout” can also be translated as “holy.” This focuses mostly on his separation from sin. He is different from the world in his values and behavior. This doesn’t mean he shuns sinners or those who struggle with sin. Like Christ, he aims to be a “friend of sinners” and yet will not compromise or commend their sinful behavior. He prayerfully seeks to love them and lead them to repentance and faith in Christ.


Elders Must Be Self-controlled (v. 8)


“Self-controlled” can also be translated as “disciplined.” It’s the same word Paul used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 of how an athlete is disciplined in all things to win the crown. Likewise, the elder must be a disciplined person who controls his eating, sleeping, and other appetites, so that he will not be disqualified from the prize. This discipline, obviously, shows up in spiritual disciplines like time in God’s Word, prayer, and service. Without being disciplined, he can’t help others grow in their spiritual disciplines as well.


Teaching Qualifications


Elders Must Know God’s Word and Be Able to Teach (v. 9)


Finally, Paul talks about the teaching qualification of elders. This is the main difference between an elder and a deacon according to 1 Timothy 3, where Paul says the elder must be “an able teacher” (v. 2). The deacon role is primarily a serving role that frees the elders up to focus on prayer, teaching of the Word, and overseeing the congregation (cf. Acts 6:1-4). Apart from the elder being a man, teaching is the only non-character qualification on the list. Elders must be students and teachers of God’s Word. Titus 1:9 says, “He must hold firmly to the faithful message as it has been taught, so that he will be able to give exhortation in such healthy teaching and correct those who speak against it.” The elder has sound doctrine and strong convictions of it. He is not one of those that say, “Doctrine doesn’t matter! We shouldn’t teach or discuss it because it’s too divisive.” No, he holds “firmly to the faithful message” so he can teach others and correct those with false doctrine. Daniel Akin, the president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary said it this way:


Being devoted to the truth, “holding fast the faithful word” (NASB), means respecting the Bible as the inspired and inerrant Word of God. It means affirming the Bible’s priority, authority, and sufficiency for what we believe and how we will live. It means the minister of God places himself gladly and willingly, and in full submission, under the Word. He is a Word man, a Word minister, a Word-constrained and captivated slave. He will preach this Word and only this Word. He would never think of standing before a congregation and doing anything less than proclaiming the Word of God. He will honor what God has said, and he will honor how God has said it. Bottom line: he will be an expositor of Holy Scripture.


David’s Guzik’s comments are also helpful:


The faithful elder is both a teacher and a defender, a preacher and a physician. Constantly and consistently he takes up the task to comfort and confront, admonish and attack. To confront and expose false teaching will not make us popular. To expose the false teachings, half gospels, and deceptive messages of a “prosperity theology,” “open theism,” or old-fashioned liberalism now dressed up as a new or generous orthodoxy will not win us the applause of men. Lest we think this too harsh, we must recall what Paul says in Romans 16:17, “Watch out for those who cause dissensions and obstacles contrary to the doctrine you have learned. Avoid them.”


Interpretation Question: Do elders have to be gifted in teaching?


As we consider this qualification, we must ask, “Do all elders have to be gifted in teaching?” Not necessarily. First Timothy 5:17 says, “Elders who provide effective leadership must be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard in speaking and teaching.” All elders must be able to teach, but only some specialize in preaching and teaching. Others specialize in ruling—overseeing the church and caring for the flock. Some churches distinguish these as ruling elders or teaching elders. Often the teaching elders are called the pastors, while others are only called elders. However, as mentioned earlier, Scripture does not distinguish—elders are pastors.


Because every other character trait on the list can be developed and the fact that not all elders excel in teaching, most likely teaching doesn’t need to be an elder’s spiritual gift. All believers are called to teach (Matt 28:19-20, Heb 5:12). These men love God’s Word, study it, and share it where there is an opportunity—in small groups, in one on one situations, and in the pulpit when offered the opportunity. Teaching is also a characteristic of the spiritually mature. Though not necessarily spiritually gifted in it, they desire to share what they have learned and by practice have developed some ability to do it. They are also passionate about sharing God’s Word with others, whether in public or in private.


When God looks for someone to use, he finds someone who loves Scripture and teaches it to others. Remember what God said to Joshua: “This law scroll must not leave your lips! You must memorize it day and night so you can carefully obey all that is written in it. Then you will prosper and be successful” (Joshua 1:8). Not only was Joshua called to meditate on the law and obey it, but also to never let it depart from his lips. He was called to be a teacher. When God looks for a person to use, he finds someone committed to studying and sharing God’s Word.


Are you committed to studying and sharing Scripture? These prospective elders would already be serving at the church—they would be showing hospitality and sharing the Word of God with others. Are you?


Application Question: Why is being in God’s Word and sharing it with others so important for believers, and especially elders? Describe your spiritual disciplines in studying and teaching Scripture. How can you grow in them?


General Applications


Application Question: What are some general applications that we can take from the qualities of elders?


1. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to cultivate our character.


When God sought a new king for Israel, he looked for a man after his own heart (1 Sam 13:14). God is not looking for degrees, skills, and accolades. He looks for people with right hearts towards him. His eyes roam the earth seeking those whose hearts are right towards him so he can use them for his glory (2 Chr 16:9).

Certainly, this reminds us to give attention to our character. It has been said in business, “Find someone with character, and then, teach them the skills.” And no doubt, this is God’s method. He finds those with character and gives them grace to do his work.


Are you giving attention to your heart—your character? From it flows all things (Prov 4:23).


2. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to pray for them.


When considering the qualities of elders given in the parallel text of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, the devil is mentioned twice in verses 6 and 7:


He must not be a recent convert or he may become arrogant and fall into the punishment that the devil will exact. And he must be well thought of by those outside the faith, so that he may not fall into disgrace and be caught by the devil’s trap.


Elders and spiritual leaders are strategic targets of the devil. We must constantly pray for their families, their ministries, and their protection. The enemy wants to destroy them because when they fall, many others fall.

Are you praying for your spiritual leaders?


3. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be careful to not add or take away from the qualifications.


We should recognize that seminary is not required of those who are elders, which again is the same as a pastor. We should recognize that being a successful businessman or leader is not a qualification for being an elder. A janitor can fulfill the qualifications in Titus and 1 Timothy just as well as a CEO. Unfortunately, because many churches and denominations have added to God’s qualifications, they have disqualified many whom God has called. Often, God trains people doctrinally in ways other than formal studies or seminary training. D. L. Moody, Charles Spurgeon, A.W. Tozer, and Billy Graham, some of the greatest pastors ever, did not have seminary training. Likewise, the disciples lacked the formal training of a Rabbi. God has throughout history delighted in displaying his glory in weak vessels. We should be very careful of adding to God’s qualifications. Certainly, formal education is great, but we should not limit how God can prepare somebody. As seen throughout history, many of the biggest churches in the world today are run by people who have not been to seminary. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 1:27-29,


… God chose what the world thinks foolish to shame the wise, and God chose what the world thinks weak to shame the strong. God chose what is low and despised in the world, what is regarded as nothing, to set aside what is regarded as something, so that no one can boast in his presence.


We should not forget this when considering potential elders or even when considering God being able to use us. God delights to display his power in weakness (2 Cor 12:9).


4. As we consider the qualities of elders, we should be challenged to pursue ministry.


Males should consider eldership as a potential ministry. In 1 Timothy 3:1, Paul said “If someone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” Being an elder is a tremendous opportunity to serve God and care for his people. It is the very ministry of Christ, for Scripture calls him the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls (1 Peter 2:25). There are no greater footsteps to follow in. Eldership is hard and the standards are high, but it is fruitful and worth it.


Most elders will be unpaid. Like Daniel, David, and Joseph, they minister to God’s people while maintaining a secular job. However, these men love God, his Word, and his people and, therefore, seek to serve them. Certainly, many men should pray about and develop ministry skills to serve God and the church in this manner.


And in general, all believers should covet and seek opportunities to serve God and his people. Christ taught that the harvest is plentiful but the laborers are few (Matt 9:37). God calls for all believers to partner with him in building his kingdom. In fact, he calls us his co-workers (1 Cor 3:9). Serving God and people is a noble task that pleases God. We should desire and pursue ministry opportunities to serve and honor God.


Application Question: Which qualities of elders stood out most to you and why? If you could only choose one, which would be your weakest area? How can you pursue growth in that area?



Prayer Prompts


• Pray for God to “set in order” and “make straight” anything in our lives and our church that is displeasing to him, including setting us free from sin, reconciling relationships, helping us grow in righteousness, anointing our worship and outreach to the lost.

• Pray for God to bless our families, that husbands and wives would love and serve one another, that our children would submit to their parents, know the Lord, be committed to him, and serve him throughout their lives.

• Pray for God to deliver us and his church from bondage to sexual sin—lust, pornography, etc.—and that we would be the pure in heart who see and experience God in deeper ways (Matt 5:8).

• Pray for God to give us grace to grow in the fruits of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, self-control, gentleness, etc., so we can better serve God and others.

• Pray for God to help us desire to do ministry, to equip us for it, to empower us to persevere in it especially when it’s difficult, and to bear much fruit through us, as we serve the church and the world.

• Pray for God to raise up many ministers from our congregation and the universal church who will go into the fields as missionaries, pastors, businessmen, teachers, government officials, homemakers, etc., because the harvest is plentiful, and the workers are few.





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