The word of God contains two lists of qualifications for bishops, or elders. The first list is:
"...appoint elders in every city, if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict." (Titus 1:5-9)
And the second is:
"A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil. Moreover he must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:2-7)
Combining these two lists, we first learn that a bishop or elder must be "blameless." How many would presume to call themselves elders if they truly considered the far reaching effect of this one word? Most of the remaining qualifications are but an expansion of this one. We next learn that he must be "the husband of one wife." This is clearly a reference to the polygamy that was practiced throughout most of the world at the time it was written, but who can deny its application to the progressive polygamy practiced in modern society? Our Lord himself forbade divorce and remarriage except in the case of sexual immorality. (Matthew 19:9) Many interpret 1 Corinthians 7:15 to mean that abandonment is a second exception to the rule against remarriage. But aside from these, Scripture allows divorce and remarriage on no other grounds. Yet many churches continue to recognize leaders after multiple marriages.
The next thing we learn is that there is a simple qualification test for a bishop. He must have successfully raised godly children. He must have "faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination." And have "his children in submission with all reverence." A man who has no children, or whose children are still very young, may have all the requisite qualifications, yet he cannot be scripturally recognized as an elder for one simple reason: He has not been tested. "If a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?"
|To qualify as a bishop:|
|A man must not be:|
|given to wine|
|greedy for money|
|And he must be:|
|a lover of what is good|
|of good behaviour|
|able to teach|
In addition to the qualifications above, a bishop must not be a novice. What does this mean? The Greek word translated novice is neophuton. It literally means newly planted. Other translations render this word neophyte, new convert, or new believer. How long is a new convert a novice? Scripture does not say; but the twelve apostles walked with the Lord three years before their ministry began. We should remember, however, that the apostles were men specially gifted for their positions. Those with more ordinary gifts may well require more time to mature.
The word novice is used in distinct contrast to the word elder. An elder is mature, while a novice is a beginner. This word applies not only to a new convert, but also to someone who is still young. Like a new convert, a young man is a beginner, a novice. It would therefore be contrary to Scripture to consider a young man an elder. We have already noticed that the Greek word translated elder is presbuteros, meaning an elderly or older man, although not necessarily an old man.
This brings us to the question of how old a man must be to qualify as an elder. This is not defined in Scripture, but there are examples to guide us. God set Joseph over the land of Egypt when he was thirty years old. (Genesis 41: 41-46) He made David king of Israel when he was thirty years old. (2 Samuel 25:4) Both of these men were not just political rulers. They were also spiritual leaders. But what of the greatest example of all? There clearly was never anyone more qualified for spiritual leadership than our Lord Jesus. How long did He wait to begin His ministry?
"Jesus Himself began His ministry at about thirty years of age.*6 (Luke 3:23)
If our Lord Himself waited until He was thirty years old, could a mere man complain about being asked to wait as long? True Christian ministry requires a maturity that cannot be taught in school or learned without experience. We should remember that these examples are drawn from those who had known the Lord from their youth. Those who have been converted later in life may not be ready by the time they are thirty.
The reason a bishop must not be a novice is, "lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil." (1 Timothy 3:6) What was the condemnation of the Devil? In Ezekiel 28:17 the Lord told him that "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor." Isaiah 14:13-14 tells us that in his pride, he said in his heart "I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will also sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High." In 1 Timothy 3:6 the Holy Spirit warns us that advancing a novice too quickly will put him danger of this sin. In spite of this warning, it is not unusual for a church to put a man in his early twenties (and sometimes even younger) into a position of responsible leadership. When this is done the man himself is often seriously harmed. When young men are put into such positions, their heads are often inflated with pride. They develop a distorted view of their own gifts, and they begin to exalt themselves instead of God. I have personally seen men in their twenties claim absolute authority over whole churches full of white headed saints. Nature itself should teach them that this is unsuitable, but if they will not hear nature, let them hear Scripture:
"You shall rise before the gray headed and honor the presence of an old man, and fear your God: I am the LORD." (Leviticus 19:32)
A further qualification for a bishop is that he must have a good reputation among those who are not Christians, "lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil." (1 Timothy 3:7) The devil loves to bring shame upon the name of Christ through the misdeeds of anyone recognized as leader in a church. Our leaders should be very careful to give him no chance to do this. But this responsibility does not rest solely on their shoulders. We should be very careful to give this kind of recognition only to suitable persons. If we fail in this, we give the devil an opportunity to reproach our Lord.
But there is one final qualification. Titus was told that a bishop must hold fast "the faithful word as he has been taught." In this qualification the Holy Spirit asserts His own authority above that of any man. This authority is transmitted through the written word of God, the Bible. One of the most widespread of all sins in the church is to blindly follow the leaders, even when they disregard (and sometimes outright deny) the Holy Scriptures. The authority of church leaders is unquestionable, but it is not absolute. Any man who tells us to disobey the word of God has no spiritual authority at all. He is disqualified. Nothing can give any man the authority to overrule the Holy Scriptures; no appointment or recognition of any kind whatsoever, formal or informal, proper or improper, real or imagined. The authority of the word of God is absolute and final. "We ought to obey God rather than men." (Acts 5:29)
How many of the problems that plague our churches today could have been avoided by attention to these simple rules. Truly our God is wiser than we are, and simple obedience to His word will preserve us from many problems and difficulties.
*6 It should be noted that thirty years old by scriptural reckoning is twenty nine years old as we count time. This is because the Hebrews counted the partial time period, while we leave it out. A newborn baby was called one year old. This is why Herod slew all the children in Bethlehem "from two years old and under" in Matthew 2:16. By our reckoning, this was all children less than one year old. Return
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