Ten Basic Qualifications of an Elder

Study No. 26

  Timothy 3 and Titus 1 lay down guidelines for certain offices of service in the Church. They, in fact, show qualifications individuals must have to occupy these offices. Let us look at these in detail.

In I Timothy 3, two terms are used: bishop (episkopos) and deacon (diakonos), while in Titus 1, the term is elder (presbuteros), which apparently is equivalent to bishop (Titus 1:5, 7). I Timothy 3:1 says that it is fine for a man to aspire to the office of bishop (episkopos, superintendent, overseer, church officer in general charge of a (or the) Church, coming from the words "chief watchman" or "chief scout"). This is a "good work" (KJV), "a good ambition" (Living Bible), "a noble task" (RSV). As such it requires a noble person. Here are the Bible qualifications:

(1) Blameless. This means "above reproach" (RSV), "a good man whose life cannot be spoken against" (Living Bible). Certainly, before he became converted he may have sinned grievously, as Paul did in condemning true believers to death. But after entering the faith and becoming a church leader, there can be no reproach worthy of public rebuke. If he has committed such grievous sins, he can be forgiven and come back into the church. But, not to an office of church leader, because his Christian life can be spoken against. His life must continually be above reproach.

(2) Husband of one wife. In these days, where churches, even most Sabbath-keeping Churches of God, condone and openly advocate divorce and remarriage, true supporters of Holy Matrimony are difficult to find. Either ministers allow divorce and remarriage in their own lives, or they allow it in others. It is all the same. A true overseer must support the family and the sacredness and permanence of marriage vows. Sadly, I have seen a leader in a large Sabbath-keeping Church divorce his wife and marry another. Another, after his wife died, married a divorced woman. In either case, by this act alone, such have disqualified themselves from being church leaders.

(3) Vigilant, sober, of good behavior. The RSV translates this as "temperate, sensible, dignified," while the Living Bible says "hard working and thoughtful, orderly, and full of good deeds." The word vigilant of I Timothy 3:2 is the Greek nephalios, the same word as "sober" in verse 11 and Titus 2:2. The vigilance that is being spoken of is that of being sober and watchful, awake and active in the truth, I Thessalonians 5:6-8, seriously overcoming Satan and human nature, I Peter 5:8, 4:7, and 1:13. The vigilant overseer watches in all things that he does, II Timothy 4:5, that he proves himself a true minister.

"Sober" is from the Greek sophron, used also in Titus 1:8, and translated "temperate" in Titus 2:2, and "discreet" in verse 5. Related forms of this same word are used in I Timothy 2:9, 15, where they refer to the "sobriety" of holy women. In II Timothy 1:7, sophronismos is translated "sound mind."

"Good behavior" is from the Greek kosmos, modest, or following worldly customs and manners. In other words, according to the Englishmanís Greek New Testament, "decorous," meaning showing decorum, propriety, good taste. A church overseer must know how to act properly under every situation, knowing how to deal with people.

(4) Given to hospitality, or to "enjoy having guests at his home" (Living Bible). Certainly this means more than putting up with people who drop by. It means having a great care for serving others, getting to know and appreciate others, listen to their problems, lending them help when in need, and so much more. Care and concern for other people is certainly a major criterion for a faithful minister.

(5) Apt to teach. A keen ability to teach is not something one picks up and does overnight. It takes patience to be a teacher, being gentle unto all, II Timothy 2:24-25. It is not being an erudite scholar, but one who has a message, and wants to present it. Teachers need to adapt what they say to each individual pupil. This unique ability is one that so many ministers lack. Some ministers are on an "authority binge," continually talking down to their students, not recognizing the fact every good teacher should know that some of his pupils have more potential than their teacher. One apt to teach helps each student fulfill his or her potential. Also, any real teacher teaches so well that his students are able to master the subject and teach others as well, II Timothy 2:2. Show me a true minister, and he will be surrounded by faithful men he has trained, who are able to teach others also.

(6) Not given to wine, no striker . . . patient, not a brawler. The margin says "not ready to quarrel, and offer wrong, as one in wine." The Modern Language Bible has "neither a drunkard nor a bully, but genial, conciliatory." "Striker" means a pugnacious, contentious, quarrelsome person.

I have observed leading Sabbath-keeping ministers drinking too much. Others, who argue at the drop of a hat, and are bullies. A mark of a true minister is being a gentle person, moderate in everything, temperate (Titus 1:8, 2:2). Titus 3:1-2 emphasizes that one who is not a brawler is subject to civil authorities (not one who is involved in lawsuits and litigation), one who speaks evil of no man, and is gentle, showing meekness to all. The Greek word translated "not a brawler" is amakos, meaning one who is against controversy, battles, or striving. This means a person whom you could not get into an argument, no matter how hard you tried. He detests arguing and striving.

(7) Not greedy of filthy lucre . . . not covetous. That is, not a lover of money and material goods. Ministers of many churches today live in material splendor. Rather than those who serve others, they are served with the best. They are in their calling for money. A whole book could cover abuse in this area, even among Sabbath-keeping organizations. Even in little things, all too many ministers disqualify themselves in this area.

(8) Ruling well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity, or as the RSV has it, "He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way." As Paul asks, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?"

This qualification for an overseer covers two areas of his personal life: (a) management of the home and (b) training of children.

Is his house neat, clean, orderly? Does he manage his finances well? Does he provide well for his family? Are his children respectful, eager to learn more of the Eternalís truth? More important, if the children are teenage or young adult, has he trained them so well that they are on the way to baptism and mature responsibilities in the Church? Here is something that takes time. Obviously, an elder or overseer is just that, an older man who has had the time to prove his spiritual maturity. If a minister cannot even train his own children to be grounded in the truth so that they will not depart from it when they leave his household, Proverbs 22:6, how can he be expected to train others to be grounded and settled in the true faith? The Eternal knew Abrahamís ability to train others, Genesis 18:18-19. Do you know the track record of your minister?

(9) Not a novice. A minister cannot be a recent convert, lest he become proud and conceited at his authority and fall into the same sin as Satan did. Any organization that sends young men fresh out of school to be "spiritual leaders" of churches is heading the way of Satan. A true elder has been trained for years under another man. He knows lifeís problems because he has lived many years, and worked with a great number of people.

(10)A good report of them which are without. Last and certainly not least, is this important must for a would-be elder or overseer. Those outside the Church are the best judge of religious hypocrisy. They are quick to detect the fakes who donít practice what they preach.

A friend was an eye witness of a world-renowned evangelist who was gambling for high stakes in a Nevada casino. Reliable sources have said he has committed multiple acts of adultery. He was put out of the ministry and the Church once or twice for sexual immorality. He has promoted wide open divorce and remarriage, resulting in hundreds of others committing adultery. At this time, he seems to have cleaned up his personal lifestyle. But to my knowledge, he has never publicly confessed of his immorality. And he has not returned to the faith once delivered on marriage and divorce. He is totally unqualified, by the Bible, to be a minister and leader of the Church. How would this "minister" ever fulfill the requirement of having a good report of those outside the Church? Public immorality can rarely if ever be erased. Such acts permanently disqualify offenders from the ministry. Satan would love to have someone preaching the truth with a sullied background. This would discredit the very truth in the eyes of everyone else. Are we ignorant of Satanís devices?


Deacons Have Similar Qualifications.

Thus far, we have covered the ten basic qualifications for a bishop (episkopos, overseer), stated in I Timothy 3:1-7. Examining verses 8-13, we will see that qualifications for deacons (diakonous, "those who serve") are much the same.

(1) They must be grave (semnos, honest, serious, dignified), just as the episkopos must have his children in subjection with all gravity (semnotees).

(2) Not double tongued. This means not saying two different things. Not a gossip, his words must be kind and true.

(3, 4) Not given to much wine, and not greedy of filthy lucre.

(5) Holding the mystery of the faith with a pure, clean conscience. That is, they are whole-hearted followers of our Savior, not having a "skeleton in the closet" of some past sin.

(6) First must be proved. How do you prove a man? You work with him, observe him, spend time with him. That is why deacons should be ordained only after proven to be qualified and faithful, I Timothy 5:22. This is the same as I Timothy 3:6, not a novice.

(7) Blameless. A similar qualification to that of episkopos. It means unreprovable, Colossians 1:22-23, one who is settled in the faith. Again this is used in Titus 1:6-7.

(8) Wives of such men must also be grave (serious in the truth), not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Deacons must be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.

So basically, these qualifications are the same. Notice the emphasis on family stability and a Bible-centered home.


Titus 1:5-9 Repeats Same Qualifications

Comparing the qualifications given in I Timothy 3 to those of Titus 1, we see again the similarity.

I Timothy 3 Titus 1

(1) Blameless (1) Blameless, as the steward of God

(2) Husband of one wife (2) Husband of one wife

(3) Vigilant, sober of good behavior (3) Sober, just, holy, temperate

(4) Given to hospitality (4) A lover of hospitality, a lover of good men

(5) Apt to teach (5) Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince (convict) the gainsayers

(6) Not given to wine, no (6) not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine,

striker, patient, not a brawler not angry, not given to wine, no striker

(7) Not greedy of filthy lucre, (7) Not given to filthy lucre

not covetous

(8) Ruling well his own house, (8) Having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly having his children in subjection with all gravity

(9) Not a novice (9)Holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught . . . elders in every city

(10) a good report of them which (10) n/a

are without

Thus, in nine of ten qualifications, Titus 1 agrees exactly with I Timothy 3.


Old Testament Priesthood Qualifications

In Old Testament times, religious leaders became such through inheritance. They had to be descendants of Aaron and/or Levi. Nevertheless, there were qualifications also. Just because you were a Levite did not mean that you could serve in the Priesthood.

(1) Couldnít drink wine when they served, Leviticus 10:9.

(2) Were to teach all the statutes, verses 10-11.

(3) They were to be holy and clean, Leviticus 21:1-6.

(4) Levites had to marry a virgin, and set a good family example, verses 5-15.

(5) Could not have any physical blemish, verses 16-24.

(6) Had to be at least 30 years old, Numbers 4:43, 46-47.


High Offices Require Strict Qualifications

Bible standards for offices of service to the Lordís people are very demanding. It is a travesty that in public honesty, and family life, those who assume high offices often exhibit the lowest character. Credit managers will tell you that as a group, ministers have about the lowest rating of honesty. Ministers are often the basest of men.

This article was not written to discredit or malign anyone. But merely to point out the high Bible standards that true ministers must follow. There is a critical need for such men of high caliber today. The Almighty ordained that He would work through human instruments. May true elders come forth everywhere exhibiting these characteristics. W


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