The Character of a Christian Leader: Above Reproach and Pure

This entry is part of 5 in the series Character of a Christian Leader

copo-de-leiteThis post is part of a series and begins a thematic look at 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and 1 Peter 5:1–4 to examine character traits necessary to being a Christian leader.

The term “above reproach” is a general description of what overseers/elders must be in 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6–7. 1 Tim 3:2 and Titus 1:6–7 each use their own Greek term (anepilēmptos, 1 Tim 3:2; anegklētos, Titus 1:6, 7), but they are practically synonymous and are thus both translated “above reproach.”1 What exactly “above reproach” means is detailed with all of the character traits that follow in each passage. In other words, “above reproach” summarizes all of the character traits to follow.2

The first character trait to examine is “the husband of one wife” (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:6). Many interpretations have been offered for this phrase: an overseer (1) should be married, (2) cannot be divorced, (3) cannot be divorced and remarried, (4) or cannot be remarried after the wife’s death. Circumstantial aspects of one’s interpretation aside, all can agree that overseers must live with purity. As the passage puts it literally, he is a “one-woman man,” pure with one or none depending on whether he is married or not. (Please remember I am discussing principles for Christian leaders in general, not requirements for overseers/elders alone.)

To round this out a bit, purity begins in the heart. Whether a Christian leader or a Christian in general, all must abstain from lust (Matt 5:27–30). Such lust is sin in and of itself. When this lust is fostered, it may lead to sinful acts, the end of which is death (James 1:14–15).

Practically, Christian leaders should treat older women as mothers and younger women as sisters (1 Tim 5:1–2). They do not go about creeping into households and preying upon women whose sin-burdened consciences and unbridled passions can be manipulated for the sake of the leader’s sinful sexual desires (2 Tim 3:6). Like Solomon, they are wise to know the wily ways of wicked women and avoid them altogether (Prov 7). Learning from David, they make no provision for the flesh and are not careless to find themselves in the wrong place and the wrong time to thus become susceptible to temptation (2 Sam 12:1–5; cf. Rom 13:14). Like Joseph, they run from unexpected situations in which the sins that could take place would be brought to light only at the end of the age (Gen 39:12; 1 Tim 5:24). In all these matters, this purity is an example for the church as a whole (1 Tim 4:12).

In keeping with the previous paragraph, I would encourage Christian leaders to consider a few suggestions for their ministries today:

  1. If a woman needs long-term counseling, try to find a godly woman who will counsel her better than you. After all, this is biblical, is it not (cf. Titus 2:3–4)?
  2. Don’t find yourself alone with a woman unless she fits Paul’s category of being treated as a mother. (It took me a minute to figure out how to say that nicely. Thank you, Paul.)
  3. Take all necessary precautions to guard yourself from pornography in our technological age. A filterless and unaccountable life with America’s internet is like inviting Potiphar’s wife to hide in your corner and tempt you in time.
  4. If single, pray for the grace of self-control (1 Cor 7:7; cf. 7:5). If married, enjoy life with the wife you love (Ecc 9:9).

I’m sure so much more could be said, but we can at least say that Christian leaders should be above reproach, meaning at the least that they should be pure. May God give us grace to reflect who He is in this regard.

  1. William D. Mounce, Pastor Epistles (WBC 46; Dallas: Word, 2000), 388. []
  2. Ibid. []

A Look at the Lists: Pastoral Passages and the Character of a Christian Leader

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Character of a Christian Leader

Symbol_list_classSeveral “C’s” help me organize my pastoral theology. A pastor must have the call, that is, a Spirit-given desire to be in ministry (cf. 1 Tim 3:1). He must also have a certain competency, that is, a Spirit-given gift-set that includes oversight and teaching (cf. 1 Tim 3:1–2). There must also be a confirmation, that is, the Spirit-led approval of the church as a whole to set aside a man to be an elder in his church (cf. 1 Tim 4:14; 5:22). Certain circumstances must be true of him as well, such as not being a recent convert (1 Tim 3:6) or one whose reputation among unbelievers is particularly disparaging (1 Tim 3:7).

To add another “C,” an obvious emphasis in Scripture is that pastors or leaders in general be men of character. Whatever one may mean by the term Christian leader, the leaders in the NT were apostles, pastors, and the like, and if one is a “leader” in the church in some capacity, passages that describe their required character should be our guide for evaluating leaders today. Today’s post begins a topical walk through 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Titus 1:5–9, and 1 Peter 5:1–4. Other passages will be referenced in the future for good measure (e.g., 1 Tim 4:12; 2 Tim 2:22).

1 Timothy 3:1–7 yields a dozen and one-half or so requirements for the overseer, depending on how one breaks apart certain descriptions. Apart from character, as referenced above, one of these requirements involves the overseer’s call (desire; 1 Tim 3:1), two others involve his competency (teaching and oversight of his home and the church; 1 Tim 3:2, 4–5), and two more involve his circumstances (not a new believer and well thought of by outsiders; 1 Tim 3:6–7). The majority of the remaining descriptions involve his character, most of which are found in 1 Tim 3:2–3. Here’s a list of these character requirements, using the Scriptural terms:

  1. above reproach (1 Tim 3:2)
  2. the husband of one wife (1 Tim 3:2)
  3. sober-minded (1 Tim 3:2)
  4. self-controlled (1 Tim 3:2)
  5. respectable (1 Tim 3:2)
  6. hospitable (1 Tim 3:2)
  7. not a drunkard (1 Tim 3:3)
  8. not violent (1 Tim 3:3)
  9. but gentle (1 Tim 3:3)
  10. not quarrelsome (1 Tim 3:3)
  11. not a lover of money (1 Tim 3:3)
  12. (not) puffed up with conceit (1 Tim 3:6)

Titus 1:5–9 is similar in that it stresses competency, specifically an elder/overseer’s firm hold on God’s Word in order to teach it well and refute those who contradict its teaching (Titus 1:9). As in 1 Tim 3:1–7, an elder/overseer’s children must be faithful (however you choose to interpret faithfulness), which is a direct reflection of the elder/overseer’s competency to govern his home and thus the church (cf. 1 Tim 3:4–5). Also similar to 1 Tim 3:1–7 is that most of the dozen and one-half items in the text find an emphasis on character. Notice the remaining list:

  1. above reproach (Titus 1:6)
  2. the husband of one wife (Titus 1:6)
  3. above reproach (Titus 1:7)
  4. not be arrogant (Titus 1:7)
  5. (not) quick-tempered (Titus 1:7)
  6. (not) a drunkard (Titus 1:7)
  7. (not) violent (Titus 1:7)
  8. (not) greedy for gain (Titus 1:7)
  9. hospitable (Titus 1:8)
  10. a lover of good (Titus 1:8)
  11. self-controlled (Titus 1:8)
  12. upright (Titus 1:8)
  13. holy (Titus 1:8)
  14. disciplined (Titus 1:8)

Finally, 1 Peter 5:1–4 is a passage that yields a half-dozen traits for a pastor’s character as well. More specifically, elders are command to shepherd (1 Pet 5:2) according and not according to a certain manner and motivation:

  1. not under compulsion (1 Pet 5:2)
  2. willingly, as God would have you (1 Pet 5:2)
  3. not for shameful gain (1 Pet 5:2)
  4. eagerly (1 Pet 5:2)
  5. not domineering over those in your charge (1 Pet 5:3)
  6. being examples to the flock (1 Pet 5:3)
  7. Though Peter states it is a fact, one could say that his description of “the unfading crown of glory” for faithful service acts as a motivation as well, a reward for shepherding according to the guidelines in #’s 1–6 above (1 Pet 5:4; cf. 5:1).

In the days ahead, we will take our time to examine these passages for common themes and take a closer look at each character trait.

The Character of a Christian Leader

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Character of a Christian Leader

2014.09.22 book-and-glasses“Pay careful attention to yourselves” (Acts 20:28). “Keep a close watch on yourself” (1 Tim 4:16). Paul gave the former of these commands to the Ephesian elders and the latter to Timothy who later served in Ephesus when several elders failed to heed such a command. As one can see, despite the slight difference in wording, the commands are essentially the same – pay attention to yourself, that is, your conduct, behavior, or way of life in Christ.

Acts 20:28 and 1 Tim 4:16 also command to pay attention to the church itself and our teaching. We should be equally invested in the people that we teach and our study of Scripture so that we can faithfully preach the Word. What I would like to do over the next few posts, however, is fill in the details of paying attention to one’s self. These posts will be a simple look at several passages in Scripture that directly concern the character of a biblical leader.

If you need some motivation as a pastor or Christian leader to read through this series, the contexts of the two commands above each yields a reason as to why it is so important to pay attention to ourselves. From Acts 20:28, we are to pay attention to ourselves because we have been appointed by the Spirit to serve God’s people who were purchased by the blood of Christ. We must serve with godliness if we are to serve God and His people properly. Similarly, from 1 Tim 4:16, we are to pay attention to ourselves because it is necessary to our salvation and the salvation of those who hear us.

In a day and age that seems to yield more temptation than ever, and in a day and age that loves to magnify the faults of leaders for better or worse, it is all the more vital that we pay attention to ourselves. I hope you’ll read the posts to come in the days ahead.

Of Horses and Harems: Deuteronomy 17:14–17 and the Character of a Christian Leader

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Character of a Christian Leader

2014.10.13 horse with knightThree weeks ago, I gave an introduction to a series on character of the Christian leader. Today the series finally continues. After a read through today’s text, we’ll see that what was written for Israel’s kings then has principles for Christian leaders today.

Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (ESV)

14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Moses knew Israel would eventually desire for a king. He prescribed that Israel’s kings would be an Israelite of God’s choosing (Deut 17:15) whose actions expressed the character of one devoted to the Lord by avoiding certain sins (Deut 17:16–17) and obeying God’s commands about His Word (Deut 17:18–20). Today we’ll examine Deut 17:15–17.

Don’t trust in your own resources.

In the first of three prohibitions, the king was not to “acquire many horses for himself” (Deut 17:16). Such an action would tempt the king to find the best horses in Egypt, which would “cause the people to return to Egypt,” something the Lord forbade: “You shall never return that way again” (Deut 17:16). Ultimately, since God is the One who throws the horse and its rider into the sea (Ex 15:1, 4), it seems the root issue here would be a king’s trust in his own resources and a failure to trust in the Lord for victory over Israel’s enemies.1 Israel’s failure to trust God would lead to trusting in the resources of others, which would only lead to slavery again.

In applying this principle to Christian leaders today, we know that our responsibilities are obviously very different from an Israelite king. Nonetheless, we, too, can be prone to trust in our own resources in carrying out the Lord’s work. Trust in techniques and programs to see the Lord qualitatively and quantitatively grow His people according to the Great Commission can only lead to a man-centered ministry that eventually finds itself in bondage to itself. Nothing can manufacture what only God can do. In matters of ministry, we plant and water to be rewarded for our labor, “but only God . . . gives the growth” (1 Cor 3:7; cf. 3:6–9).

Don’t turn away from God through immorality.

The second prohibition was that the king “shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away” (Deut 17:17). Not only did having a harem of multiple wives stray from God’s ideal for marriage (cf. Gen 2:24), but a king’s marriages to many wives would often be for political purposes and to pagan women who served other gods. The king’s love for these wives would eventually turn his heart towards their idols, and he would thereby fail to wholeheartedly love the one, true God.

Solomon provides us with a sad example of failing to uphold this prohibition. “King Solomon loved many foreign women [700 wives and 300 concubines] . . . And his wives turned away his heart. For when Solomon was old his wives turned away his heart after other gods, and his heart was not wholly true to the Lord his God, as was the heart of David his father” (1 Kgs 11:3–4).

Jesus further tells us that adultery begins in the heart (Matt 5:28), and James adds that, if lust is fostered enough, it will result in sinful action, the end of which is death (James 1:14–15). Christians and Christian leaders in particular should guard their hearts and seek to be pure in mind and action.

Don’t give in to greed.

The third and final prohibition was that the king would not “acquire for himself excessive silver and gold” (Deut 17:17). As Paul said, “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils” (1 Tim 6:10), and the accumulation of gold could result in a king’s “fall into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction” (1 Tim 6:9). Among other vices related to riches, riches could be gathered by violence (Prov 11:16), can turn their owner into a miser (Prov 11:24), can rob their owner of trust in God (Prov 11:28), can make their owner seem wise in his own eyes (Prov 28:11), can move their owner to strife (Prov 28:25), and so on. Greed and amassing wealth for one’s self reveals a desire for all the present life can offer with no thought for the eternal future (cf. Luke 12:16–21).

For Christian leaders today, it is no surprise that the major passages concerning  an elder’s character deny the greedy man leadership over God’s people (1 Tim 3:3; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet 5:2). If a Christian leader heartily labors to rule and preach well and is thereby “worthy of double honor” in his “wages” (1 Tim 5:17–18), so be it. For the rest of us, let us remember what Paul said to Timothy: “godliness with contentment is great gain. . . . if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content” (1 Tim 6:8).

Next week, we’ll consider the positive commands that follow in Deuteronomy 17:18–20.

  1. Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT; Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976), 255. []

Handbook for the Heart: Deuteronomy 17:18–20 and the Character of a Christian Leader

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Character of a Christian Leader

2014.10.20 booksLast week we looked at Deut 17:14–17 and discovered three prohibitions for Israel’s kings that Christian leaders can follow in principle today. This week, we’ll read through Deut 17:14–20 again and see the import of the positive commands for the king in Deut 17:18–20.

Deuteronomy 17:14–20 (ESV)
14 “When you come to the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you possess it and dwell in it and then say, ‘I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,’ 15 you may indeed set a king over you whom the Lord your God will choose. One from among your brothers you shall set as king over you. You may not put a foreigner over you, who is not your brother. 16 Only he must not acquire many horses for himself or cause the people to return to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, since the Lord has said to you, ‘You shall never return that way again.’ 17 And he shall not acquire many wives for himself, lest his heart turn away, nor shall he acquire for himself excessive silver and gold.

18 “And when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself in a book a copy of this law, approved by the Levitical priests. 19 And it shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them, 20 that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers, and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left, so that he may continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel.

Study the Word of God (Deut 17:18–19).

What is summarized here as one command (study) involved multiple commands for the king of Israel. He was to “write for himself in a book a copy of this law,” that is, the Law of Moses (Deut 17:18; cf. 1:5; 4:44; 27:3, 8, 26; 29:21, 29; 30:10; 31).1 It was to be carefully copied, as it was to be “approved by the Levitical priests” (Deut 17:18), which means at the least that the priests somehow involved in this copying of the Law.2 The king was to keep this copy “with him” in order to “read in it all the days of his life” (Deut 17:19).

As kings of old, we, too, are to study God’s Word in order to faithfully obey it as we ought (cf.  1 Tim 4:16; 6:14; 2 Tim 2:15). Just as the king showed the fear of the Lord by reading and God’s Word then, so Jesus says to us today, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).

Humbly obey the Word of God.

This continued reading of God’s Word was for the king’s perseverance in the faith as described in multiple ways. First, this reading was intended for him to “learn to fear the Lord his God by keeping all the words of this law and these statutes, and doing them” (Deut 17:19). The repetition of “keeping . . . and doing” stresses the obedience of the king. This obedience would evidence his fear of God and saving knowledge of the one, true God (cf. Prov 1:7).

Second, this reading was intended for the king to remain humble. He was to “read in it . . . that his heart may not be lifted up above his brothers” (Deut 17:19–20). Despite his kingly position, the king was an Israelite like all other Israelites, and God’s choice of him as king was no reason to boast. Continued study of the Law would keep him humble.

Third, this reading was intended for the king’s avoidance of sin and consequent blessing. His knowledge and obedience of God’s Word would enable him to “not turn aside from the commandment, either to the right hand or to the left” (Deut 17:20). Besides having the joy of remaining faithful to the Lord, the king would also “continue long in his kingdom, he and his children, in Israel” (Deut 17:20). This promise entailed the continuance of the king’s rule and the extension of this rule to his descendants thereafter.

Just as reading God’s Word was intended to keep the king humble among his brothers, so also Christian leaders today must always remember that their privileged service is not to magnify themselves but humbly serve them. Jesus pictured this service in washing the disciple’s feet (John 13:1–20) and ultimately by giving His life as a ransom for men (Mark 10:45).

While there is no demand for Christian leaders to be replaced by their children, it could be pointed out that a faithful leader is expected to have children who are faithful to the ways of the Lord (Titus 1:6). This would certainly be God’s continued blessing to multiple generations in light of a leader’s study and humble obedience to His Word.

  1. Eugene H. Merrill, Deuteronomy (NAC 4; Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1994), 266. []
  2. Robert G. Bratcher and Howard A. Hatton, A Handbook on Deuteronomy (UBS Handbook Series; New York: United Bible Societies, 2000), 309, briefly give four options for how the priests were involved. Copying could have taken place by (1) being somehow copied from the autograph of the Law (cf. Deut 31:9), (2) dictation, (3) by the king in the priests’ presence, or (4) by the priests under the king’s supervision. []