By Randy Blackaby
An elder must be a blameless man with a desire for the work, previously successful as a husband and father, and vigilant, temperate, and sober-minded. But he also must be a person of good behavior, given to hospitality and capable of teaching and defending the truth. These last three qualifications round out the direct attributes required of a man for this office, as cited by the Apostle Paul in writing to Timothy and Titus.
In 1 Timothy 3:2, the apostle says an elder must be a man “of good behavior.” Unlike many of the other qualifications, which are very specific, this one seems general in its nature—suggesting that all aspects of an elder’s life must be good.
The phrase “of good behavior” comes from the Greek word kosmion and describes a person who is moderate, regular, orderly, well behaved, modest, well-arranged. It is used of a person living with decorum, a well-ordered life.
So, again, this is a comprehensive qualification. This would apply in his business dealings, in his language and his dress, to mention just a few things. We are familiar with the same word being used of a woman’s attire (1 Timothy 2:9).
It is important to remember that elders are spiritual leaders. This qualification clearly addresses the type of example they are to be in every facet of life. The elder must live well before both the church and the world.
It Is Critical That He Be Hospitable
Paul writes that an elder must be “given to hospitality” or “hospitable” (1 Timothy 3:2) and a “lover of hospitality” or “hospitable” (Titus 1:8). Both texts use the same Greek word, philoxenon, which means “hospitable, generous to guests, loving toward guests.”
Like most of the other qualifications to be an elder, this is a character trait all Christians are required to develop. But an elder candidate, if that is a proper term, must already demonstrate some mastery of this trait before he is appointed to the office.
Hospitality involves using our home and other resources to receive and entertain brethren and sinners, friends and those not yet known well to us.
The Bible teaches us to be hospitable toward other Christians. 1 Peter 4:9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without grumbling.” And we have this responsibility more generally. We are told in Galatians 6:10, “Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith.” And we are to demonstrate this act of kindness especially toward strangers, as Hebrews 13:2 teaches. “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.”
While this character trait in an elder will be of great service in exemplifying the attribute for emulation by other Christians, it is much more. It is an invaluable tool in accomplishing the spiritual work of the bishop.
A loving, kind and caring disposition is a key to teaching the lost. The gospel, not kindness, is the central message of salvation. But people are led to and motivated to listen to that message of salvation by people who demonstrate a sincere and loving interest in their welfare.
Particularly in a culture like ours, where a man’s house is his castle, where home life is centered, a man’s family cared for and protected, inviting someone to share the provisions of that domain says a great deal about your care or love for the person invited.
To “break bread” with another or eat with them demonstrates a certain degree of intimacy or a desire for such closeness. This is seen clearly in that when fellowship among brethren is broken by sin, we are commanded, “not to eat” with or “keep company” with such a one until they repent (1 Corinthians 5:9-11; 2 Thessalonians ).
In extending hospitality to unbelievers, we express love for the lost one, as Jesus did when he ate with sinners and taught them His will in that context. When we act hospitably toward brethren we link the spiritual fellowship we enjoy in Christ Jesus with the temporal togetherness enjoyed in our home or around a common table.
And extending provisions of food and shelter toward strangers is modeled on the teaching of Jesus about the Good Samaritan and demonstrates our understanding that all men are our “neighbors.”
It seems likely that most brethren have lost sight of the fact that the “home,” not the church building, is the most important center for teaching the lost. The Lord’s church critically needs leaders who will use their homes freely in the service of Christ Jesus.
Isn’t it ironic that while the typical American home has doubled, tripled, or quadrupled in average size over the past 40 or 50 years, the practice of hospitality has declined in near reverse proportions?
Being hospitable absolutely does not require a home that looks like something out of a house fashions magazine. But it likely will require the involvement of the elder’s wife in keeping and maintaining even a very humble home in conditions conducive to hospitality. It puts a new and somewhat spiritually oriented focus on the job of “keeper of the home”—an emphasis often missing in Christian homes.
So, an elder’s hospitality is related to the next qualification we’ll explore, his ability to teach. And it also is related to what we’ll explore in our next article—the qualifications of an elder’s wife.
Able To Teach
The apostle also declared that a man must be “apt to teach” or “able to teach” before he is suitable to undertake the work of an overseer in the Lord’s church (1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:9).
Primarily, this qualification addresses spiritual maturity. We’ve already observed that an elder is not to be a novice or a new babe in Christ. There’s certainly nothing wrong—and a lot right—about being a new convert. But to be a spiritual leader you must be able to lead and leading requires that you know enough about the gospel and the principles of righteousness to show others the way to live and act.
Put simply, you can’t teach what you don’t know.
So, this ability is very, very important for a bishop in the Lord’s church. But it also is relative. That is, an elder must have a relatively high degree of ability to teach but it does not mean every overseer must be a pulpit preacher, Bible scholar or even be a great Bible class teacher.
And while the elder must be capable of teaching, the texts do not imply that elders are to be the only ones teaching.
That said, it is important to note that the terms “pastor” and “shepherd” applied to this work demonstrate the “feeding” and “caretaking” roles of elders and thus directly relate to this teaching qualification.
Like other required traits, the elder’s teaching is an example for others to emulate. But it is much more. He needs this ability to successfully carry out so much of his work. Brethren who are sinning, struggling or seeking will need instruction, rebuke and exhortation. All that takes an ability to present what God’s word declares.
False teaching may arise within the congregation and he must be able to “hold 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 1:9). He must be capable of using “sound doctrine” and the “faithful word” to “exhort” and “convict” or “convince” the gainsayer (those who oppose).
Thus, the shepherd’s role goes beyond teaching or feeding and also entails protecting the flock of God. He must know what to look for, know error when he sees it and then instruct against error and sin.
In congregations where elders never teach in any capacity, there is a breach of this duty, implied by the qualification.
Next: A man’s wife may help qualify or disqualify him.
Randy Blackaby lives in Medway, OH and preaches for the New Carlisle church of Christ. He also serves this congregation as one of its elders. He has preached full-time for about 18 years and part-time for that many more. During the period from 1971 to 1988 he was a reporter and later managing editor of The Xenia Daily Gazette in Ohio. He preached for 14 years in Kokomo, IN and has written a number of newspaper columns as a preacher, including Bible Q&A and op-ed pieces on current issues from a biblical perspective. He is a staff writer for Truth Magazine and writes monthly columns for the New Carlisle Sun, the Knollwood Messenger and this magazine. He has written a host of workbooks on Bible texts and themes, including recent ones on the book of Galatians and the Life of Moses. Currently, he is working on another on what the Bible teaches about “Money and Possessions.” After the fall of the Soviet Union, he made five preaching trips to Lithuania between 1994 and 2000. He can be contacted at email@example.com.