In Part 1, we looked at Paul’s standards for an elder’s family life. In Part 2, we look at Paul’s standards for an elder’s personal character.
His Personal Character
Grammatically speaking, the list of qualities contained in verses 7-8 describe not so much “what an elder must do,” as “who an elder must be.” In other words, Paul is not drafting an itemized checklist of an elder’s actions, but painting a picture of the patterns that characterize his life. First, Paul paints in the negative space, revealing who an elder must not be.
Who He Must Not Be
“For the overseer must be above reproach as God’s steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain…” (Titus 1:7)
He must not be “self-willed,” self-involved, or preoccupied with his own interests. The deadliest leader is the one for whom self-preservation is a primary motivation. He depends on his followers to make the sacrifices necessary to elevate him to a position of fame, glory, or wealth. But a God-honoring elder models his ministry after Christ’s, who “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave” (Phil 2:5-8), and he “does not merely look out for his own personal interests, but also for the interests of others” (Phil 2:4).
He must not be “quick-tempered,” prone to rage or angry language. Temper tantrums are no less appropriate for an adult than for a child. An elder must be calm and rational, not impetuous or provocative. A quick temper is not only a disservice to others, but to oneself. “Like a city that is broken into and without walls is a man who has no control over his spirit” (Prov 25:28).
He must not be “addicted to wine.” This doesn’t prohibit the consumption of alcohol, but it does require an elder to be above reproach in the area of drink. In some environments, this will require him to abstain completely. In others, it may not. The universal principle is: he must not be evicted of his faculties by any substance. You cannot be a “slave of God” (Titus 1:1) and a “slave of wine” (Titus 2:3) at the same time.
He must not be “pugnacious,” or literally, “a striker.” As obvious as it may seem, domestic violence or assault immediately disqualifies a man from ministry. However, a violent man is disqualified not only due to the damage he inflicts, but also due to the lustful nature of his heart. James asks, piercingly, “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have, so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (James 4:1-2a). And in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus identifies the sin behind murder as an angry heart. “You have heard that the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder,’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matt 5:21-22). A physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive man is unfit to manage the household of God.
He must not be “fond of sordid gain” – in the KJV, “given to filthy lucre.” Today, many self-appointed “ministers” are men of dirty money, acquiring profit by means of deceit. Scripture proclaims nothing but the strongest damnation over such men. Whip in hand, Jesus declared to the corrupt temple merchants, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a robbers’ den” (Matt 21:13). In a flurry of condemnation, Peter refers to money-hungry preachers as “unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed… stains and blemishes, reveling in their deceptions… enticing unstable souls, having a heart trained in greed, accursed children, forsaking the right way, having followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved the wages of unrighteousness” (2 Pet 2:12-15).
In verse 8, Paul changes gears, describing the elder’s personal character in positive terms.
Who He Must Be
“…but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled…” (Titus 1:8)
He must be “hospitable.” This word philoxenos, or “one who loves strangers,” is the opposite of xenophobic, or “fearing strangers.” In the first century, the closest thing to a “motel” was typically a brothel (MacArthur, 1 Timothy, 107). Therefore, traveling Christians had to rely on the hospitality of other believers. It was – and is – a matter of Christian witness to cultivate the skill of hospitality, and elders must lead from the front in this area. Biblical hospitality often clashes with the Western notion of “me time.” In cross-cultural ministry, it is especially important for an elder or missionary to understand this requirement. We often throw off a vibe of, “you’re welcome… when I feel welcoming.” We must recognize: Paul wouldn’t have included hospitality here if he was referring to something convenient or naturally-occurring. An elder must be above reproach in his attitude towards strangers. It is only appropriate to shut the door against a professing believer when they are promoting a false gospel or otherwise harmful doctrine (2 John 1:9-11).
He must be a “lover of what is good,” meaning that he should love what God loves. Twenty-first century entertainment culture isn’t too different from first century entertainment culture – it tends to glorify what God hates. Netflix has a lot in common with the Colosseum. The higher the production value, the higher the typical dosage of sexuality, violence, and worldview deception. There’s nothing wrong with “loving,” or enjoying, what is genuinely good. But an elder is not above reproach if he enjoys that which glorifies or showcases the things that God hates.
He must be “sensible,” or “prudent.” Aristotle defines this Greek term, sophron, as being “intent on the what, the how, and the when of doing what should be done” (Ethica Nicomachea 3, 15). A qualified elder is not a bull-in-a-china-shop leader. He is not a one-size-fits-all leader. He is a sensible, prudent, and appropriate leader.
He must also be “just,” as opposed to “corrupt.” He is firmly opposed to the “sordid gain” mentioned in verse 7, and must neither give nor receive bribes. “A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom to pervert the ways of justice” (Prov 17:23). Furthermore, he must treat his congregants with impartiality. “My brethren, do not hold your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ with an attitude of personal favoritism. For if a man comes into your assembly with a gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and there also comes in a poor man in dirty clothes, and you pay special attention to the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and say, ‘You sit here in a good place,’ and you say to the poor man, ‘You stand over there, or sit down by my footstool,’ have you not made distinctions among yourselves, and become judges with evil motives?” (James 2:1-4)
And finally, he must be “self-controlled,” “having his emotions, impulses, or desires under control” (BDAG, 274). He must be disciplined, not indulgent or gluttonous. Paul uses the same Greek term (egkrateo) when he describes the importance of discipline to the Corinthians, using the ancient Olympic games as an example. “Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air, but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified” (1 Cor 9:25-27). If an elder is to remain above reproach, he must exhibit discipline, both bodily and mentally.
Paul tasked Titus with identifying men of blameless personal character, and raising them up as elders in every city. In Part 3, we’ll look at Paul’s standards for an elder’s abilities.