How Not to “Elder”

by Brad Dupray

First Timothy chapter 3 is the usual, “go-to” passage for elder qualifications.  It begins, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of an overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”  Then Paul goes on to give a fairly specific list of what many would call the “musts” of being an elder.
For some reason, Titus 1 has become sort of the backup list.  Once we have exhausted I Timothy 3 it’s almost as if we say, “Oh yeah, Paul had something to say to Titus about this, too; guess we should take a look.”
Personally, I have a greater appreciation for Paul’s exhortation to Titus.  Certainly there are some things that are redundant between the two passages (“above reproach,” “husband of one wife,” “not addicted to wine”) and there are many things that are similar but the wording is slightly different (e.g., “free from the love of money” in Timothy, “not fond of sordid gain” in Titus). 
Paul’s words to Titus are less of a “list” and more of a teaching moment.  Paul uses his letter to Titus to ascertain some things that not only come as “requirements” for an elder, but what it takes to be a good elder – or not so much.
For example, an elder must be a good man.  As Paul begins his teaching to Titus he indicates two times that an elder must be “above reproach” (verses 6 and 7), and as he comes toward his conclusion in the second verse of chapter 2 he concludes with the same theme: “temperate, dignified, sensible, sound in faith, in love, in perseverance.”
Where Paul diverts from his teaching to Timothy is when he talks about what an elder should not be.  Verses 10-16 of Titus 1 tell us how not to be an elder in the church of God:

  • Be a false teacher – “empty talkers and deceivers…” (v 10) “who turn away from the truth” (v 14).  He calls these teachers “defiled and unbelieving” (v 15), which tells me I don’t want to be a man like that!
  • Be racist – Paul is astonished in verse 12 that one who calls himself a leader in the church would make evil assertions about Cretans.  When he writes “this testimony is true” in verse 13 he is not endorsing the ugly statements about Cretans; he is making reference that it is beyond belief that an elder would say such thing about people of another race.  The “testimony is true” that “empty talkers and deceivers” must be rebuked.
  • Create havoc in the church – He warns in verse 11 against elders in the church who “teach for the sake of sordid gain.”  There were men who were “upsetting whole families” by the things they were teaching.  An elder has to remember James’ admonition: “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment (James 3:1).”  Paul had told Timothy an elder should be “able to teach;” he here elaborates on that to Titus.

 As chapter one comes to a close Paul says that men like this “profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him.”  He says they are “detestable,” “disobedient,” “worthless!”  Paul doesn’t simply wag his finger at these men who divide the church, he says in verse 13 to “reprove them severely.”
Opinions vary on whether the lists provided by Paul should be understood as checklists versus guidelines.  But I think there’s one thing we can all agree upon and that is an elder is a role model to the church and when he deviates from being above reproach he not only offends the bride of Christ, he offends the savior Himself.

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