From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

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From the Gospel to Good Works: A Church’s How-To Manual for Elders (1 Timothy 5:17–25)

What are you supposed to do in church? What are elders supposed to do in church?
And how do elders and members work together in the church?

On Sunday I answered these questions with six “how-to’s” from 1 Timothy 5:17–25. In this section to Timothy about elders, Paul gives inspired counsel for providing for how to honor elders, protect elders, rebuke (sinning) elders, and appoint elders—to name a few things Paul says.

You can hear the whole sermon online. Response questions and additional resources about elders and churches are below. Continue reading

Can I Get A Witness?!? Why Gospel-Centered Churches Need Faithful Deacons

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“After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them on ahead of him, two by two, into every town and place where he himself was about to go.”
– Luke 10:1 –

And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching . . .
– Acts 2:42a –

For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
– 1 Timothy 3:13 –

Few things are more encouraging to a preacher than the audible “Amen!” Such a positive response to God’s Word has an electric effect on the pulpit and the pew. Rightly timed, the “Amen!” affirms the Word preached and the preacher of the Word. It says, “Pastor, I am with you and I agree with this truth!” It also says, “Congregation, listen up; for this word is good news!”

There is no mandate in Scripture for the congregational “Amen,” but there is something more profound—maybe even theological—about this twofold witness to God’s Word. Throughout the New Testament, wherever the Word is preached, it is brought by multiple witnesses. For instance, when Jesus sent out his disciples to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom, he sent them out “two by two” (Luke 10:1). Jesus’s own ministry included the witness of John the Baptist (John 5:30–46), and when Jesus described the church he established it on the basis of two or three gathered together (Matthew 18:19–20).

In all, there is a pattern in the New Testament that the proclamation of the Gospel is carried by two or more witnesses. Perhaps this is a pragmatic decision to increase the psychological confidence of God’s witnesses, but I suspect it is more a function of legal testimony. Just as the Spirit vindicated Jesus through his resurrection (1 Timothy 3:16), those who bear witness to the justification that comes through faith in the resurrected Christ bear legal testimony to God’s work. Continue reading

Where Do Elders Come From?

churchFrom the beginning of the church, there were designated leaders. And though given various names (e.g., elders, pastors, overseers) they served the same function. As God-given leaders of God’s flock (Acts 20:28) and under-shepherds to the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:1–4), these men were called to model the faith before God’s people and to teach the word of God, protecting God’s children from error and bolstering their faith in Christ.

A cursory reading of the New Testament shows how important these men were. In Acts we find elders in Jerusalem (11:30; 14:23; 15:2, 4, 6; 21:18) and Ephesus (20:17). When Paul planted churches in Galatia, he appointed elders in each church (Acts 14:23). In correspondence with Titus, he told him to appoint qualified overseers in the churches on Crete (Titus 1:5–9). Similarly, Timothy received instruction on the qualification of overseers (1 Timothy 3:1–7) and instructions for removing unqualified elders (5:17–23).

Even before Paul wrote his Pastoral Epistles, he had called churches to care for those who taught them (Galatians 6:6–9) and to honor those who led them (1 Thessalonians 5:12–13). Similarly, James, Peter, John, and the author of Hebrews all spoke in various ways about the office of the overseer/elder/pastor (see James 5:14; 1 Peter 5:1–4; 2 John 1; 3 John 1; Hebrews 13:7, 17). In short, the New Testament says a great deal about this important role, and it does so because the health of the church depends on those who lead them with God’s Word.

Yet, for all that it says about the office, we should ask another important question: Where do elders come from? Thankfully, the New Testament is not silent on this question. Just as it describes how to recognize an elder, it also describes where they come from. And faithful churches (and the elders who lead them), will be aware of how God raises up elders.

Where Do Elders Come From?

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A Beautiful Household (pt. 2): Brothers Who Lead, Sisters Who Labor, and a Heavenly Father Who Knows Best 

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A Beautiful Household (pt. 2): Brothers Who Lead, Sisters Who Labor, and a Heavenly Father Who Knows Best (Sermon Audio)

Who do you say you are? And what importance does your family play in defining your answer?

On Sunday we completed part 2 of a message looking at the household of God in 1 Timothy 2:8–15. We also considered just how much our culture’s individualism works against our understanding of the Bible, especially this passage.

Throughout Scripture, God’s work of salvation is always aimed at creating a people, not just saving individuals. Jesus said he came not to bring peace, but a sword and to separate people from their families in order to make them part of his family. His words in Matthew 10:34–39 are unsettling, but they are also saving. He concludes, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

If we take Jesus seriously, he calls us to radically redefine our lives by his words and his family. In this sermon, I applied this concept of being adopted into Christ’s family to understand the challenging words of 1 Timothy 2:11–15. You can listen to the sermon online. Response questions and additional resources can be found below. Continue reading

Take Heart My Brothers: Six Pastoral Priorities in the Face of Church Conflict

ethan-weil-262745In fair weather, the Pastoral Epistles are a storehouse of spiritual wisdom and instruction for the life of the Church and her ministers. But as we know too well, such cloudless skies are infrequent. Thankfully, when affliction grips the body of Christ, Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus are the most capable of helping pastors and churches navigate dark skies and turbulent winds. And thus in times of relational conflict and spiritual warfare, we (pastors) need to study them with an eye to what they say to about leading the church through conflict.

Indeed, in these letters (and others), Paul often speaks about the work of Satan, and significantly he places our enemy not outside, but inside, Christ’s fold. For instance, among born-again believers, Paul speaks of the way Satan finds a foothold (Ephesians 4:27), ensnares young believers ambitious to lead (1 Timothy 3:6–7), and turns brothers into opponents (2 Timothy 2:22–26). Because of his spiritual invasion, the church must always be on guard (1 Peter 5:8), praying against the schemes of the devil (Ephesians 6:10–19), and aware that ungodly people sneak into the church (Jude). Even more, wise elders must give themselves to steering the church straight in the face of opposition that comes from within the church and without.

To do this elders must keep a few things before their eyes. That is, we must prepare ourselves for the turmoil that sin and Satan bring to the church. And thus, in the face of constant threats, churches and church leaders do well to have a clear understanding of what to do when trouble comes. And there is no better place to find this counsel than the Pastoral Epistles.

So, if you are a pastor going through rough waters in your church, or if you are church member wondering what a faithful model of leadership should look like in the face of conflict, here are six priorities from the Book of Titus to guide your steps. Surely, these priorities will need to be administered with care in various contemporary settings, but they nonetheless provide biblical direction for churches to keep in mind when the wind and waves of church conflict seek to run the church aground. Continue reading

Household ‘Stewards’: A Rich Metaphor for Pastors and Churches

shepherdThis is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ
and stewards of the mysteries of God.
Moreover, it is required of stewards
that they be found faithful.
– 1 Corinthians 4:1–2 –

In creation, there is nothing more valuable than human life. And this is doubly true for those who have been purchased with the infinite blood of Christ (Acts 20:28; 1 Corinthians 6:19; 1 Peter 1:18–19). God sent his Son to Calvary to redeem a people for his own possession, and so great is his love for his people that the Good Shepherd has raised up shepherds who would tend his flock. Sometimes these spiritual leaders are called pastors, or overseers, or elders—synonymous terms for the same office. At the same time, while each of these labels stress different aspects of local church ministry, there is another title that needs consideration—steward.

In Paul’s letters especially, “steward” (oikonomos) describes the kind of ministry pastors are to have. As Christ gives pastors to his people (Ephesians 4:11), he gives them to particular, groups of people—i.e., local churches. In Acts 2, when the church was “birthed,” new converts were “added to the number” of the church (v. 47; cf. 4:5, 32; etc.). Later Paul could speak of a “majority” in the church (2 Cor 2:6) or the “whole church” gathering, indicating an awareness of the number of the people. The importance of this observation is that God has not simply given pastors to be spiritual mentors or life coaches to Christians in general. He has called them to manage local gatherings of God’s household.

For good reason, most pastoral literature focuses attention on the multivalent duties of the pastor/overseer/elder. However, focus on these three labels without consideration of the fourth gives us an incomplete picture. There needs to be equal emphasis given to the idea of the pastor as God’s steward. In fact, such a notion focuses the high calling of a pastor within the parameters of a local church and clarifies the importance for Christians to be members of a local church. Without disregarding the vital importance of the universal church, the pastor as steward corrects amorphous understandings of spiritual leadership and church life.

What is a Steward?

In the New Testament, oikonomos and oikonomia are two words related to the oversight of a house. Continue reading

What Should Churches Do Who Have Elders?

churchTitus 1:5–9 and 1 Timothy 3:1–7 give a host of qualifications for potential elders. Additionally, they give indication as to what an elder is supposed to do—to instruct the flock in sound doctrine and protect the church from false teaching, immorality, and division.

Yet, what about the congregation? Does the Bible have anything to say to church members as to their relationship with the elders who shepherd them?

While no virtue list exists for congregations like that of potential elders, the New Testament does instruct church members to love, support, and even submit to their leaders. In fact, from the context of many passages related to church leadership we find at least a dozen ways Christians should relate to those who lead them.

Twelve Ways The Church Relates to its Leaders

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What Makes a Divorce ‘Biblical’?

sufficiencyEarlier this week laid out a gospel-centered approach to understanding what Scripture says about divorce. Yesterday, I also listed eight points that the Bible makes about divorce. But today, I want to ask a practical question: What makes a divorce biblical?

That is to ask, if Jesus and Paul permit divorce in the cases of ongoing sexual immorality and/or abandonment, what should take place in the life of a believer and a church, if they come to the heart-breaking point of considering a divorce?

As a point of clarification, biblical does not mean the same thing as good or ideal. As with all relational strife, divorce is not good in itself. However, Scripture does give us commands, principles, and guidance on how to faithfully handle a divorce, so it is right to speak of divorce as “biblical” if it is in keeping with God’s Word. Likewise, a divorce pursued contrary to God’s Word makes it “unbiblical.”

Believing that Scripture has given us everything we need for understanding and pursuing a godly life, we should know what comprises a biblical divorce. Here is my attempt to begin to outline the steps of a “biblical” divorce. Continue reading

What is an Elder Supposed to Do?

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When Paul instructed Titus to appoint elders in every town (1:5), he immediately listed qualifications to find those men (vv. 6–9). What he spent little time on was the specific tasks they were supposed to do as elders.

From the remainder of the letter, it can be surmised that elders who oversee the church must silence false teachers (1:11), teach what accords with sound doctrine (2:1), model good works for others (2:7), exercise authority in matters of doctrine (2:15), and protect the flock from divisive persons (3:10). Yet, these are only some of the tasks mentioned in the New Testament. Today, I want to enumerate seven others, beginning with Jesus’ words to Peter in John 21..

Seven Tasks of an Elder Who Oversees the Flock

1. Feed the Flock.

It is arguable that the genesis of the pastoral office began on a seashore in Galilee. In John 21 Jesus went in search of Peter. Days before, on the night of Jesus’ arrest, Peter denied Christ three times. Crushed by his own disloyalty, Peter returned to fishing. However, as Jesus had called him to be a fisher of men before (Matt 4:19), he again came to restore Peter to Jesus’ ministry.

In verses 15–19 Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do you love me more than these?” (Presumably motioning to the fish). Each time Peter responded, “You know I love you.” And each time, Jesus assigned him a pastoral task: “Feed my lambs” (v. 15); “tend my sheep” (v. 16); “feed my sheep” (v. 17). Using this pastoral metaphor, Jesus announced the primary duty of an elder (cf. 1 Pet 5:1)—to feed the flock of God with the food of God, i.e., God’s holy Word! Continue reading

Establish Elders for the Sake of Evangelism


evangelistThe saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.

— 1 Timothy 3:1–7 —

I’ve gotten out of the habit of curating and quoting other blogs recently. But as our church continues to look at Titus 1 and the role of elders in the church, I find David Murray’s post on 1 Timothy 3:1–7 extremely enlightening—especially, his final point.

In numerical fashion, Murray lists ten realities about elders from 1 Timothy 3:1–7.

  1. The vital importance of these verses: This saying is trustworthy
  2. The huge responsibility in these verses: the position of an overseer
  3. The powerful and pure desire in these verses: If anyone aspires to the office…
  4. The worthy work in these verses: a noble task
  5. The uncompromising imperative in these verses: the elder must be
  6. The beautiful self-control in these verses: blameless
  7. The useful service in these verses: hospitable, able to teach
  8. The testing ground in these verses: manage his own household well
  9. The fearful danger in these verses: not a recent convert
  10. The evangelistic impact of these verses: well-thought of by outsiders

In his blog post, he explains each of these. They parallel a number of the points I made in yesterday’s sermon on Titus 1:5–9. However, it’s the last point that he makes that deserves our consideration. As to the evangelistic impact of elders, Murray writes,

Who we elect to office communicates so much to the world about what the church and the Gospel is all about, that it should be considered a major part of our evangelistic message to the world. The list of elders’ qualifications have two similar bookends: “above reproach” and “well-thought of by outsiders” underlining that electing elders is an evangelistic act.

“Electing elders is an evangelistic act.” I couldn’t agree more, and I think it is an under-appreciated truth.

The Vital Role of Elders in Evangelism, Church Growth, and Church Health

To many, church leadership structures are a secondary or tertiary matter. In recent days, I’ve had more than a few comments downplaying the importance of leadership structures.

Especially when a church is struggling or filled with strife, it is easy to think that revival or changed hearts is needed. There is no denying the need for repentance and reconciliation. But to dismiss the role elders (or the lack thereof) plays in church health misses much of what the Pastoral Epistles teach.

Church health—and by health I mean ability to protect, proclaim, and display the gospel—is necessarily retained and promoted by true elders. And when the structure of elders is missing or leaders in the church are less than what 1 Timothy 3 describes, it should not come as a surprise that evangelism, church growth, and church health are all in decline.

May God be pleased to raise up godly elders in your church and mine—not just for the sake of church leadership, but as David Murray reminds us, for the sake of evangelism too.

Soli Deo Gloria, ds