Sunday Sermons

Sunday Sermons

Qualifications of Elders - Part 2



Of the Elder


1 Timothy 3:4-7 “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity, (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?); and not a new convert, lest he become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he may not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil”


3:4 “He must be one who manages”:  This indicates that the elder must presently rule his household well.  This is not an optional requirement.   “Manages”:  “To be over, superintend, preside over” (Thayer p. 539).  To stand before, lead, attend to, indicating care and diligence (Vine p. 307).  Be at the head of, rule, and direct (Arndt p. 707).  “Well”: “Rightly, so that there shall be no room for blame” (Thayer p. 323).  “Fitly, appropriately, in the right way” (Arndt p. 401). “Keeping his children under control”:  That is keeping them over control, having obedient children. “Children”: Note that the term “children” can apply to children who are little as well as children who are grown adults (1 Timothy 1:2, 18; 5:4).  “With all dignity”:  Honor, purity, reverence, seriousness, respectfulness.  It would appear that the “dignity” applies not merely to the children, but to how the elder keeps his children under control.  He is a dignified father, that is, he does not have to yell at his children or threaten them to keep them in subjection.  “Denotes the dignified way in which the father will secure the obedience of his children” (Hiebert p. 67). 


3:5 “but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?”


Here is the reason for the qualification.  The results that a man gets with his own family will be an indication of the results that may be expected in the household of God.  “Ill-trained, bad children reflect on any elder, not merely because they are hurtful examples to the children of the members (and non-members), but still more because they show that the father is incompetent for his office” (Lenski).   “If a man cannot manage his own children whom he has reared, and whom have always been under his care, how can he manage the church of God?” (Lipscomb p. 148).  “The way in which a man controls his home reveals his capacity for leadership and government” (Kent p. 133). 


Various Questions


·        Must the children be merely well behaved or must they be Christians?


Paul in Titus is more specific and notes that the children must be “believing” (Titus 1:6).  The expression, “that believe” refers to “a Christian” (Arndt p. 665).  In Timothy, believers are Christians (1 Timothy 4:3,10,12; 5:16).


·        Does an elder have to have more than one child?  Does the plural “children” in this passage include the elder with only one child?


The following thoughts are not designed to make our lives more difficult, but rather to make sure that we are not making assumptions and taking things for granted.  The following information is given because Christians will and do encounter the above question.  If a questionnaire is sent to fathers asking, “How many children do you have?”  The man with only one child would write “one”; and this shows that the term “children” may mean “child”.  Yet if the same questionnaire was sent, and it was first explained that when we say “children” we mean a plurality of children, how would the man with one child answer, having heard how the word children is being used?


·        The same word rendered in Timothy and Titus children is used in other places in the New Testament, where it clearly includes the singular child (Matthew 7:11; 10:21; 19:29; 22:24; 27:25; Acts 21:21; 1 Corinthians 7:14; Ephesians 6:1; Colossians 3:20 and 1 Timothy 5:4).  It is clear that in the New Testament the plural children often includes the singular children, yet the question needs to be asked, “Does the singular inherently reside in the word, or is it brought out by other passages and or the context?”

·        The primary argument for the man having only one children being qualified to serve is that “the singular is always included in the plural”. 

·        Yet plurals and singulars are not always interchangeable.  The phrase “churches of Christ” (Romans 16:16) includes each individual congregation but it does not refer to only one congregation.

·        Interchanging plurals and singulars can equally get us into trouble, for the plural “elders” does pick up each individual elder that is appointed or serving, it clearly does not mean that Paul appointed only one elder (Acts 14:23), or that only one elder ruled in Philippi (Philippians 1:1).

·        Yes, the plural of teknon (children) can have a singular application, but this is not always true.  The only way to determine when “children” refers to only one child is when the context and other passages would demand or allow this interpretation.  Normally, the primarily meaning is a plurality of offspring.  So is there anything in 1 Timothy 3 or Titus 1 or any other passages dealing with elders that would allow a secondary meaning?

·        For example, see 1 Timothy 5:4 where “children” does include the single child in the context (5:8).


A good summation on this point is, “Every argument that I have seen favoring the one child position, reduces itself to the following: (1) Tekna (children) has an abnormal meaning in some passages. (2) The context of 1 Timothy 3:4 and Titus 1:6 does not forbid such a meaning.  Thus the position is assumed yet not proven.  Some say that the emphasis is not on the number of children, but on how the elder rules whatever number of offspring he might have.  Yet this assumes that a plurality is not important to God, yet the Holy Spirit did give a word that denotes a plurality of children, and sometimesincludes the only child.  Others have said, “We see no point in imposing a qualification based more upon biologic ability that spiritual quality”.  Yet based upon this reasoning, one could appoint elders who did not have any children.


·        “Must all the children believe?”


Admittedly, this is what we would all like to see, for no one would have a problem with a man whose children were all Christians.  It seems to me that anything short of this opens up a number of problems, one being that we are now operating upon pure human wisdom.  If all the children do not believe, then what percentage is still acceptable?  The text does not say that he rules a portion of his household well.


·        “What if they fall away after they leave home?


At this point some would argue that 1 Timothy 3:4 and Titus 1:6 only apply to how the children behave when they are under this man’s roof.  That whatever the child does after they leave home does not impact upon the character, or leadership ability of their father, or how they were raised.  The real question here is does Titus 1:6 and 1 Timothy 3:4 only apply to the children as long as they are at home?   We need to remember that these are present qualifications.  The man whose children no longer live at home and are no longer faithful Christians first and foremost does not have children “that believe”. 


1.       Many are uncomfortable appointing a man whose children tend to fall away right after they leave home, but more comfortable appointing a man who had one of his children fall away years after leaving home.

2.       I know that after the children leave home parental influence is somewhat diminished, but we need to be careful about assuming why the elder continually needs this qualification. 

3.       On a very practical level I have found that members have a difficult time taking seriously the advice of a man whose children are not faithful, and a congregation shepherded by men whose children are no longer faithful seems to get the message that having unfaithful children is an acceptable standard.  It seems to send the message that if the elders children did not stay with the gospel that there is little hope that my children we as well.


Titus 1:6


1:6 “Having children who believe”: They presently believe.  Paul here states to Titus that these children must be believersbut does not mention whether or not they are still at home.  Remember, in first century culture, children old enough to be on their own and children with their own families were often still in the same household as their parents. “Not accused”: Not involved in and thus not under the accusation of being.  “Of dissipation”: “An abandoned, dissolute life”(Thayer p. 82). “Wastefulness” (Vine p. 299). “debauchery” (Arndt p. 119).  “Luxury of the table, and all intemperance in the enjoyment of sensual pleasure” (Macknight p. 364).  Compare with Ephesians 5:18; Luke 15:13; 1 Peter 4:4.  “Or rebellion”: Disobedient, not subject to rule, undisciplined, rebellious.  “Not accused of reckless living, not wanting in obedience” (Knox); “Not open to charges of reckless living and unwillingness to obey” (Nor).  Paul noted to Timothy the reason for this qualification.  The inability to convert and rule one’s own family will translate into an inability to influence and rule God’s people (1 Timothy 3:4-5).  In addition, “the gospel message” looks incredibly weak and lacks credibility when an elder cannot even convince his own children and even when his own children do not abide in the doctrine of Christ.


Other Thoughts on “Children that Believe”:



1.    If having unfaithful children would damage his reputation at the time of this appointment, then why do unfaithful children not damage his reputation years after his appointment? 


2.    Nothing in the qualifications speaks of “having been”, but rather the language clearly is speaking about not only the past but the present condition of this man (Titus 1:6 “is”, “of”, “having”, 1:7 “must be”). When God gives qualifications that are in the past, the language clearly demonstrates such, as in the case of the widow indeed (1 Timothy 5:9-10).  This widow is not longer bringing up children (5:10), but in this case the Holy Spirit is speaking about what she did.  I find the qualifications of elders reading differently. 



3.    I do not find God dividing up the qualifications into what the elder must continue to be and what he can no longer be or have and yet still be qualified.


4.    The situation with children becoming unfaithful is certainty a tremendous heartache.  Allow me to give some thoughts on this matter and the elders’ qualifications. 


·       The elder who has a child or children who die in while faithful is a major difference between the man whose children departed from the Lord. In a sense the first man still has faithful children, for they died faithfully. His children may not be on this earth, but they are faithful.

·       Most agree that the elder whose children immediately leave the faith after leaving home demonstrates that the faith of these children was defective.  They may have been baptized, and they may have attended, but they were not “faithful” in the sense of having their own genuine faith.

·       It is more difficult with the man whose children depart from God years later. A man who has raised faithful children has demonstrated one aspect of this qualification (1 Timothy 3:4-5), yet there is more to the command to have faithful children than seeing if a man can rule his house.  The other side of this qualification is the question of influence in the community (Titus 1:6).  Can a child who is 40 or 50 live in such a way as to hurt an elder’s reputation or his influence not only in the congregation but in the surrounding community as well? 



3:7 “Not a new convert:


It takes time to become “apt to teach” (Hebrews 5:12-14).  To feed the flock, one must know more than just the milk of the word or just the first principles of Christianity. To do battle with false teachers, one must have a working knowledge of the word, and have experience (Titus 1:9; Acts 20:29ff).  The reason for this qualification is that in the first century various Jewish men became Christians who already might have possessed most of the qualifications already.  Secondly, there is the temptation among Christians at times to appoint to the eldership a new convert who has a high profile in the community.  “So that he will not become conceited”:  Such a position of leadership and authority would be setting up this new convert for temptation.  “To blind by pride and conceit” (Vincent p. 208).  “The great danger to the novice is that his sudden elevation is likely to cause him to inflate with pride” (Kent p. 134).  Please note that this new convert might be a very moral man and an extremely good husband and father, yet there is a big difference between being moral, and spiritual maturity that is able to handle a position of leadership. 


3:6 “And fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil”: The type of condemnation into which the devil fell, or this may be the condemnation that the devil tries to lay for man, by luring people into sin through pride: 1 John 2:15-16.Again we see God's wisdom.  Often men try to appoint someone to a task in order to make them feel good, to make them feel welcome.  The work of an elder is not merely honorary in nature.  Those that become elders must be men of experience, humble men who realize their own true unimportance and importance, being an elder cannot go to their head, but must go to their feet, that is, get them busy in the work.


3:7 “And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church”: Please note that the elder is a man from the community in which the congregation is located and not some administrator with headquarters in a distant city.  Often people can put on a front when with other Christians and at the services.  Is this man a Christian the other six days of the week?   This is a man who does not let his guard down and is always faithful in all circumstances.


He that believes that Christianity applies to every realm of his life, it applies in business dealings, with relatives and in-laws, during times of recreation, at the supermarket, and so on. “Too often men are selected and appointed to the eldership without regard for their reputations among those people who are not Christians.  Those outside the church must consider this man a fair, honest, good, sincere, godly man.  He must be right in his dealings with all men”  [1]“The good which a church is capable of accomplishing in a community depends very much upon its reputation, and the reputation of the church depends much upon that of its representative men” [2] If someone does not speak well of him, we need to remember to consider the source.  Christians will make some enemies (Luke 6:26).  Their reason for not caring for him needs to be evaluated?  (Titus 2:8).


3:7 “So that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil”:


“That he may not be exposed to scandal and get caught in the devil's snare” (NEB).  The term “reproach” means, “reveling, disgrace, insult, fall into disgrace”.  And a “snare” is whatever brings peril, loss or destruction, a trap (1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Timothy 2:26).  “So he may not be involved in slander and get snared by it” (Ber).  Unfortunately, some people in the world are looking for a reason not to believe or to discount Christianity and an elder with a bad reputation in the community can be a convenient way of dismissing Christ.  In addition, it is difficult for a man with a damaged reputation to lead or correct anyone else.





Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church of Christ/503-644-9017

    [1] Phillips pg. 169

    [2] McGarvey pg. 54