Posts Tagged ‘faithfulness’

Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Finding Jesus in Genesis: Lesson 13

Faith and the Promise of the Bride

Genesis 24—A Wife for the Promised Son.

Introduction

We have been working our way through Genesis, looking for pictures of Jesus, or for personal appearances of the Messiah. This chapter has a delightful account that bears some serious attention: The “players” are the Father (Abraham), the Son (Isaac), the Servant (unidentified), the Bride (Rebekah), and the Bride’s extended family (named in the text, but, significantly, related to the Son.) The Mother is out of the picture, dead and buried.

There is an oath taken (a strange way of taking oath, but evidently culturally significant.) There is a journey made to seek a Bride for the Son. The whole purpose of the Servant and his journey is to call out a Bride for the only begotten Son of the Father. Is this starting to sound familiar?

If one sees this as a simple narrative of a servant sent to purchase a bride for a rich man’s son, it is not terribly interesting, beyond the fact that Isaac wound up marrying his “first cousin once removed”—the daughter of Bethuel, who was his first cousin. But, if we bear in mind the fact that Isaac is highly “typical” of Christ—a prefiguring of the Messiah—then the story becomes a lot more interesting, because that makes this whole story a picture of Christ and the Church:

The Father

Abraham, the Father, sends an unnamed (in this passage) Servant, to call out a Bride for his Son. That is what is happening today—the Holy Spirit, who is himself God, but who always “takes a back seat,” so to speak, and virtually never speaks of himself, but only of the things of the Son—is calling out a people, who, collectively, are called the “Bride of Christ.”

The Servant went with Great riches to offer to the Bride, as well as precious gifts for the relatives of the Bride. There was a “Bride-Price” to be paid, as there still is in many cultures today. We may find that repugnant in this day of “social correctness”, but the fact remains that there are in excess of six thousand languages in the world—closer to seven thousand, actually—and each language has one or more cultures associated with it. We are not in a position to dictate what is proper for another culture: The fact is, there was a bride-price to be paid, and the servant went there prepared to pay it. He gave precious gifts to the family of the Bride, and assured them that her Bridegroom was wealthy beyond measure, and that he was the heir of the Father.

The Holy Spirit gives precious gifts to the called-out ones, (That is what the Greek word “ecclesia” means…translated “assembly”, or “church.”) and He blesses the people from whom they are called out, as well, though it is not always appreciated.

The Oath

Abraham extracted an oath from his servant: the bride was not to be taken from among the Canaanites, but from among his kindred, back in the city of Nahor, in the land of Ur. (Abraham’s brother Nahor had not left Ur with their father Terah in Genesis chapter 11.)

There are two ways to look at this: Jesus had to be related to the Bride: He became human for the express purpose of being related to us, so that He could be our “Kinsman-Redeemer”—the Hebrew word is “goel”. Boaz was a picture of Christ as the kinsman-redeemer. He fulfilled that office toward Ruth and Naomi, as a picture of how Jesus would fulfill it for us. The Kinsman Redeemer had four requirements:

 

  1. He had to be a near relative.
  2. He had to be free himself.
  3. He had to have the price of redemption.
  4. He had to be willing.

 

Boaz qualified on all four counts. The other potential “goel” (or kinsman-redeemer) in the story, who remained unnamed, was qualified on the first three counts, but he was not willing.

So, the Bride has to be entirely of the human race—no angels were invited. The Gospel is only extended to human sinners. The fallen angels, or demons, were never offered salvation.

The other side of this oath, is that the Canaanites were extremely idolatrous, as well as practicing unclean lifestyles. The people of Abraham’s family had a background of idolatry as well, as we see later on, but they were still of a closer cultural and religious background than anyone in Canaan. So, the second way to see it is that the Bride had to be of the “same faith” as the Groom. No unbelievers can become part of the Bride of Christ—the Universal Church. It is impossible to “infiltrate” the true church. God sees the heart, and no one can fool him.

It is, however, ridiculously easy to infiltrate the local church, and unbelievers fool us constantly, even becoming teachers and pastors. A fellow recently told me of a pastor he had once had, asking him, “You don’t really believe Jesus walked on water, do you?” That is a shocking question, coming from one who has been entrusted with the task of feeding he flock of God—the Bride of Christ. (“Yea, hath God surely said?” This is the voice of the Serpent!)

We need to be very watchful regarding the people we allow to feed the flock. Remember that the trade-marked “D-Con™” Mouse poison is 99.99% clean mouse food, and .01% poison…but it is still quite lethal. The false doctrine and disbelief taught by false teachers is fatal to faith. God is calling out true believers, and no unbelievers can enter the door of the real sheepfold. But we need to recognize that the World and Satan are very interested in weakening the effect of the local assemblies as examples of that Bride, and ambassadors of Christ. If he can either water down the truth of God’s Word, or convince us to swallow false doctrine, then he succeeds in corrupting the Church, and weakening our effectiveness as God’s representatives on Earth.

The Servant and the Bride

The Servant immediately set out to accomplish the will of the Father. He took ten camels and an unknown number of other, lesser servants along with him, and set out for Ur of the Chaldees, and the city of Abraham’s brother, Nahor, as directed. When he arrived, he did not “rest up, and re-group” but immediately was “on task.” He knew he was in the right town, but wanted no false starts. He prayed, not for himself, but for the sake of the Father and of the Son, that he would be given sure guidance. He asked for a very specific answer, and immediately stepped out to see the result. God answered that prayer, to the letter, and the Servant was thrilled with the result.

Do you see the parallels here? They are kind of hard to miss, are they not? Let’s look at the specifics, which do not seem to apply to the typology. The Servant asked that the one he approached for a drink of water would be the “right one” and that the proof would be that when he asked for a drink of water, she would volunteer to water the camels as well. That is a tall order! Camels drink large quantities of water; especially when they have just completed a trip across a desert (600-1000 miles depending on the route and the actual locations of both ends of the journey.) But, immediately after he prayed—in fact, while he was still speaking—he looked and saw Rebekah coming to draw water. He evidently thought she was “just what the doctor ordered”, because he ran to meet her and asked for water. She immediately responded with “Drink, my lord, and I will draw water for your camels as well, until they have done drinking.” The servant kept quiet, and just watched, as she made trip after trip to the well, and kept filling the watering trough until the camels had their fill. I am told that a camel can drink 20 gallons… so she may have had to haul in the neighborhood of 200 gallons up out of that well. The servant asked of her family, as he gave her the gifts he had prepared. She answered that she was the daughter of Bethuel, who is the son of Nahor. So, she was Isaac’s first cousin, once removed.

The Servant blessed God for answering his prayer so directly. (Compare Isaiah 65:24) He uses a peculiar phrase: “I being in the way.” The servant was on the way to do his master’s bidding. He, being in the way, (that is, doing what he was commanded to do), asked for specific direction, and immediately received an answer. I wonder how often we ask for specific direction, but do not receive such an answer, because we were not “in the way”—not on course—not on task. We are not headed in the direction we were commanded to go, so we don’t get more direction. That is something to think about, isn’t it? And, if we are disobedient in the things we know, why should He give us further information? Or answer prayers at all, for that matter?

Rebekah’s Family made no objection, and the Bride was thrilled with the offer. She gladly consented to go with the Servant, and eventually meet the Son. Once the decision was made, the Servant demanded that the journey begin immediately. The family did object to that, and wanted to keep her around for a while. The Servant would have none of it, and requested that they not hinder him. So, they put the question to the Bride, and she chose to go. The Servant gave precious gifts to the family, but the full inheritance, and the Son himself awaited the Bride. She received relatively small gifts initially, compared to what was waiting in the Father’s House.

Incidentally, I believe that Rebekah’s response, “I will go!” is the normal, correct, healthy response of the believer to the leading of God. When we balk, and whine and procrastinate, we are not behaving like the Bride. Yes, this was referring to her initial response, and we are not told how she felt on the long journey to meet the Groom. But we are given to believe that her response did not change. I really like that, because it is how we are supposed to respond as well.

In fact, whether we are thinking of our initial response to the Gospel, or our daily response to the leading of the Holy Spirit, the question is always the same: “Will you go with this Man?

Initially, we are told of Christ, and what he has done for us, what he offers…and the claim he makes upon us; but we are still invited to decide. Then, having made our decision, we are daily called upon to re-commit ourselves, in daily acts of faith—being willing to trust God, and not to whine. Being willing to speak, to pray, or to wait…being willing to obey. Being willing to accept loss and hardship. The question is constantly, “Will you trust and obey God, or not?”

The answer to that first question, regarding our salvation, permanently decides our position with Christ. The answer to the reiteration of that question decides, moment by moment, the character of our relationship with God. If we are constantly balking, withdrawing, and running off on our own errands, then we have a poor relationship with the Bridegroom. If we are constantly obedient, and rejoicing in His presence, then we have a good relationship with Him. But the choice, day by day, moment by moment, is ours.

Consider the plight of Rebekah: She had chosen to take off on a long trip across a bleak and dangerous desert with a man she didn’t know and his colleagues whom she also did not know. She was allowed to take along her entourage of female servants (We are not told how many), but they would not be much help if this was a bad decision. She is taking a journey from which she will never return. And she has not even seen a picture of the man she is to marry. Once they are out of sight of her home town, she is utterly committed, for better or for worse.

If she tries to go back, she cannot hope to survive. If she runs off into the desert, she will be lost and will perish. Her only hope is to trust that her initial decision is the right one. She must allow her guide to carry her through the wilderness to her Groom-to-be. As a matter of fact, the Servant has a trust to keep. The Bride is precious beyond description to Him, as he not only knows it is the fulfillment of the Father’s will, and the Bride for the only begotten Son, but He has seen that God brought this woman to him in a miraculous way, and there is no question in his mind that she is “the right one!” So, nothing will separate her from him! He will see her through to the end, until she sees the Son, face-to-face! His only task is to bring her safely through the wilderness to the Father’s House, to the glory of the Father and of the Son! (I really hope you are seeing the precious parallels here, in this story!)

God the Father sent God the Son to pay the Bride-Price. He paid it in full, at the Cross. He had to buy the entire World to get the Bride. He paid for the sins of the whole world, to win the few who will become the Bride. The question is put to each culture and language, by the Holy Spirit, using Human ambassadors: prophets, missionaries, evangelists, teachers, etc. They describe the Father, the Son, and the Price that has been paid. They tell of the riches of His coming Kingdom, sometimes in vague terms, simply because they themselves have also never seen it. But the Holy Spirit has seen it, and He lends credibility to their testimony. Some hear the news, and are stirred to faith. Other hear and simply shrug, or perhaps are repulsed. They all hear the question, “Will you go with this Man? Will you trust yourself to the completed work of Jesus at the Cross, knowing you will not see him face-to-face in this life?” But those few who believe the Gospel say “Yes! I will go!

They then begin a long (or sometimes short) journey across the wilderness of this life, trusting in His written Word, and in the Holy Spirit who guides them. They know they cannot go back, and that there is destruction all around them, but they trust the guide (to one degree or another) and He always brings them through safely. That is His only goal: to glorify the Father and the Son, and in doing so, to bring home the Bride. That is why the scriptures say that we are “sealed in Christ” by the Holy Spirit “until the redemption of the purchased possession!” The Holy Spirit is not about to allow anyone to turn Him aside from his assignment! He will bring us home even if we change our minds, and “throw a fit” along the way, just as the Servant was to bring Rebekah home, once the transaction was complete. The Price has been paid, and we have placed our faith in His shed blood. The Holy Spirit Himself has been given to us, as an “engagement ring”—the Earnest of our Inheritance. We are sealed, and we will be delivered!

Conclusion

The only question left, really, is “how will you go with this Man?” Will you walk in obedience to Christ? Will you accept each day of travel in this wilderness as being a day that brings you closer to Jesus? Or will you struggle, and fight, and doubt, and try to run off into the desert?

The decision is yours. You can see the beautiful, clear portrait that has been painted for you in God’s Word: you can take your place in that picture, and daily choose to walk with Jesus, in the person of the Holy Spirit, or you can struggle and doubt him.

I frequently am guilty of the struggling and doubts. I expect that there are others who experience this as well. Go back to 1st John 1:9 and confess your unbelief, and then continue the journey, by faith. Every step draws you closer to Christ.

Remember how the story ends: When Rebekah saw Isaac in the distance, she asked the Servant, “What man is this?” He said, “It is my Master!” She got down off the camel, and she covered herself with a veil, recognizing him as her Groom. Our day is coming, too, when we will also see the Bridegroom face-to-face, and we will find that we are already clothed in His righteousness!

Lord Jesus, open our eyes to the reality of the journey, and our responsibilities along the way, as ambassadors of Christ. Teach us to walk in faith and Joy, not doubting Your Grace.


The Fatherhood of God

The Fatherhood of God

© C. O. Bishop 6/6/17; THCF 6/18/17

John 8:44; Psalm 103:13, 14, etc.

Introduction:

Much has been said about the “Fatherhood of God”, especially by those who attempt to extend the concept and call it the “Universal Fatherhood of God.” The fact is, God flatly denies that He is the father of everyone, and Jesus pointed out that being the offspring of some person would cause that offspring to bear some resemblance to the parent, one way or another…specifically, He said “if God were your Father, you would love me.”

So, we have a problem: These two ideas are sharply opposed, and one is called out by the Savior as being false, yet that one is, by far, the more popular of the two notions. They cannot both be true. Jesus said to those same people (John 8:44), “Ye are of your father the devil, and his works will ye do!” He went on to explain what kind of works he meant; in this particular case, lying and murder. And, as a race, we humans do seem to excel at both. The market for nonfiction is huge, but we are less interested in it than we are in fiction. The movie industry is completely given over to fiction, both for entertainment and for politically inspired social engineering. And the most popular fiction includes violence, immorality and, frequently Spiritism of some sort.

From God’s Perspective:

When God refers to Himself as a Father, what does he mean? Who does he claim as his offspring? Does it mean something different, for example, when he refers to someone as his “son” than when he call them His children, or “infants”—little children?

To begin with, it is probably important for us to see that there is one word in the Old Testament, which is translated “father”: the Hebrew word “ab”. And, in the New Testament, there is only one main word, too: the Greek word “pater,” which is where we get our English words, patriarch, paternity and paternal. Both the Hebrew word and the Greek word can mean either one’s literal paternal parent, or simply a forefather.

In some cases, both the Old Testament and the New Testament use the words to mean the “originator” or Creator of something or someone, while not indicating a paternal relationship. In at least one case, Jesus used the Greek word “pater” in exactly that way, saying that Satan “is a liar and the father of it”…He does not mean that Satan has a “paternal relationship” with lies: only that he is the originator of deception. In this sense only, one could say that God is the Father of all, meaning only that He is the Creator. But in terms of relationship, He does not claim all his creation as His children, or His offspring, let alone, his heirs.

In our own lives, of course, we have that dichotomy of meaning, too. It is possible for someone to have an absent father, with whom they have never had a relationship. He was their originator, but never filled the role of protector, teacher, and provider in their life. In fact, most human parents fail at one level or another. None are perfect, no matter how we may desire to be. But God is! So we need to look to Him, and be blessed and encouraged by His role as our heavenly Father. How does He fulfill that role?

In the Old Testament there are a few references to God as a “Father”: some in reference to His relationship with Israel as a nation, and at least one (Psalm 89:26) in reference to his relationship with a human…King Solomon, specifically; but, ultimately, that one actually turns out to be describing His relationship with The Messiah, God the Son (see Hebrews 1:5). It found its short-term fulfillment in His relationship with Solomon, but the final fulfillment was in Jesus Christ. It is interesting, that of the hundreds of uses of the word “father”, in the Old Testament, virtually all of them are strictly in regard to human fathers, or ancestors, not God. But in the New Testament, that pattern is nearly completely reversed. Virtually all New Testament references to “Father” are specifically in reference to God the Father, as opposed to a human father, and (sometimes), in comparison or contrast to God the Son or God the Holy Spirit.

In Psalm 103:13, 14, it says “…as a father pities (or, ‘has compassion for’) his children, so God pities those that fear him”…describing His response to believers in general…He is compassionate toward us. The next verse continues, “…for He knows our frame; He remembers that we are but dust.” He is not expecting us to do anything outside our capability, unless we do it with His ability. Jesus confirmed this idea in John 15:5, saying “…apart from Me, ye can do nothing.” If an ordinary human being said such a thing, it would be the grossest arrogance: when Jesus said it, it was the simple truth. We are not capable, on our own, of doing anything that has eternal value. Our core characteristic, as natural people, is to be contrary to God. He says that our sin nature not only is not subject to God, but cannot be subject to Him. In our natural ability, we cannot offer anything clean, or holy, to God, because we are contaminated with Sin. God knows that, and He loves us anyway, and He offers to replace our strength with His. He then works through us to make something of eternal value, and rewards us as if we had done it…just for allowing Him to work through us.

From Jesus’s Perspective:

Bearing in mind that Jesus is God—God the Son—it is still instructive to see how Jesus responded to God the Father. We see the following:

  • Love
  • Admiration
  • Respect
  • Imitation
  • Faith
  • Submission
  • Obedience
  • Fellowship

Jesus made a point of the fact that he was obedient to the Father, but that it was an obedience based upon admiration, and respect, not fear of punishment. He said repeatedly that what He Himself did was in direct imitation of His Father. At Gethsemane, he submitted Himself to His Father, in faith, knowing that His Father would do what was perfect.

We see an Old Testament portrait of this relationship in Abraham and Isaac, as they walked up into the mountains of Moriah. They walked together in fellowship. Isaac carrying the wood for his own destruction, while his father carried the knife and the fire-pot. Isaac could see what was coming, and definitely had the strength to refuse, and could easily have outrun his father…but chose to maintain faith and fellowship. Just as Jesus did, at Gethsemane, Isaac, by his actions, said, “…not my will but thine be done.”

Jesus said that our Heavenly Father knows our needs and provides for us. Are there exceptions? Yes, Hebrews 11 states that the “best of the best”…of whom the World is not worthy, were those who had everything taken from them, and lived completely destitute lives, fleeing for their lives, and looking to God for their future. He said these died in faith, not having received the promise. Did that mean that God has failed them? No, it means that He has something better for them. He says so. (Hebrews 11:30)

From Our Perspective:

We must choose to look at Him through the eyes of Scripture: What characteristics of God, what attributes of His nature, do we think of when we consider Him as our Father? Here is a short list:

  • Omniscience
  • Omnisapience
  • Omnipotence
  • Immutability
  • Authority
  • Faithfulness
  • Steadfastness
  • Righteousness
  • Mercy
  • Love
  • Goodness
  • Grace

How might each of these attributes affect our relationship with Him, and our response to Him?

Omniscience…and Goodness:

Being confident that our Father is literally all-knowing, and that along with being all-knowing, He is completely Good, can give me confidence in His choosing my place in life, and providing opportunities in that place for me to “blossom where I am planted,” rather than constantly fretting against His will for me.

Omnisapience…and Love

Knowing that my heavenly Father is all-wise is comforting, because it means that He will guide me and care for me in appropriate ways. His Love will be extended to me, not in mushy, “that’s OK, Sweetie-pie, Daddy loves you” ways, but in Divine wisdom, doing what is actually best for me. Jesus went to the Cross, as an active outworking of the Love of God…and Divine wisdom.

Omnipotence…and Authority:

I can be confident that the absolute power of God the Father is not limited, because He also possesses the absolute authority to speak, and carry out His will. These two ideas are not exactly the same. A strong man may have the physical ability to bend others to his will through force, or through threat of force…but may act far beyond any authority he has been allotted. We call such people overbearing bullies, or abusers, or, in some cases, criminals. But God has the authority, and uses it wisely. He certainly can stop the storm, but sometimes, instead, He shelters His children from the storm.

Immutability…and Grace

In most cases, when a person says they “never change,” that is a bad thing…most people need to change, either because there are bad things about them that require repentance—which means “a change of mind”—or because they are needing to grow, and learn from experience.

But God says that He is unchanging, and that is a Good Thing! His Grace is always applicable in our lives. His Love is unfailing. He never wakes up in a bad mood and acts out against his family, or says cruel things because he is frustrated. He is Unchanging…immutable. When we look back at how God saved sinners in the Old Testament, all the way back to Adam and Eve, we see that they were saved by Grace through Faith, just as we are today. Why? Because our Heavenly Father is unchanging. His Goodness, and His Love and His Grace never come and go like the tide… they are always the same. God, our Heavenly Father, is overwhelmingly Good all the time, whether we see it that way or not.

Righteousness…and Mercy

The Father is Righteouscompletely and unwaveringly righteous, like a blindingly white, powerful searchlight, that exposes everything. He is Holy, completely separate from, and completely opposed to sin. God says that He hates sin, just as a parent who has lost a child to a drug overdose would hate the illegal drug trade. God has lost every single one of his human creation to Sin, and is working to win them back…to save them from eternal destruction.

1st John 1:5 says that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. This refers to His eternal Holiness and Righteousness, but it poses a problem for those of us who seek to know Him, and to approach His throne. The problem is that we, as sinners, are not righteous, or holy. We are deficient in every way, when compared to Him. So, from our perspective, His Mercy becomes His most important attribute, along with His Love.

God’s Righteousness and Justice were satisfied at the Cross…and that is where His Mercy was extended to us, as well. He says that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Not those that just believe He exists, but rather those who trust in His Mercy and Grace through the Cross. The demons believe he exists: they have seen him face to face from the moment they were created…and they live in fearful knowledge of the coming judgment. Mercy was not extended to the angels who sinned. They knew Him face to face, and chose to rebel. None of us have ever seen God…thus we all sin in ignorance, to one degree or another. And God knows our limitations, and He extends His Mercy and Grace to us, as a loving Father makes allowance for the fragility and ignorance of his toddlers. He is compassionate toward us.

Steadfastness…and Faithfulness

These two sound as though they are the same, but Steadfastness could possibly only refer to a “stubborn refusal to give up”, whereas Faithfulness carries the idea of full commitment to a person or an ideal. So to say that my heavenly Father is steadfast in His faithfulness toward me is a matter of full confidence that God will not give up on me. In Philippians 1:6, it says “Being confident of this very thing, that He who has begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” Yes! That means God will stubbornly refuse to give up on me! It means He is completely committed to my well-being, and will never abandon me to my sin, or to Satan, the enemy of my soul. He will never forsake me and leave me to flounder alone. This is why the Psalmist could say, “Yea, though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me!” He knew of the faithfulness and steadfastness of God! He knew that God would be with him through all of life and beyond, into eternity. He knew what it meant to have confidence in his Heavenly Father.

Conclusion:

We have all had human fathers: some wonderful in every way, some distressingly lacking, in one way or another, and some completely absent, as having abandoned their family to follow their own desires. (This is true of mothers as well, but there is no “Heavenly Mother”, to whom we can make a comparison, so we simply don’t go there. We are just grateful for who they are.)

But all of us, as believers, have a Heavenly Father, in whom we can have full confidence, and faith, and to whom we can, in full confidence, offer obedience and submission, love and admiration, and above all, respect. We can imitate Him, in full faith that he is worthy of our worship and, in doing all of the above, we can join in fellowship with Him, just as Jesus did.

To whatever degree it has been possible, given the relationship we have had with our human fathers, we have offered them the same sort of responses. And, to those of us whose human fathers are still alive, we still can offer that sort of respect and love, tempered by the awareness that they, like we, are sinners, and flawed from birth. We do not compare them to God (or anyone else), and shake our heads as though they are to be dismissed for malfeasance of duty. We treat them with respect, because God commands it. We love them for the things they have done right, and we extend God’s Mercy for their failures, knowing that we, too, are failures. (Remember? “…for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God?”) My children were astonished to discover that I didn’t know everything. I was astonished to find out that they had ever assumed I did. From that point forward, a balance had to be established. They learned to respect me in spite of the fact that I don’t know everything, and the fact that I make mistakes.

If you are a father, and can still actively emulate the character of God, in your continuing striving to be the man God has called you to be, then press on, in faith, knowing that God is with you and will work through you as you seek to imitate Him. Keep in mind the character of God, and strive to be like Him, in Love and Mercy, and kindness, maintaining a righteous, Godly example for your children to follow, as well.

If your father is still alive, please offer him the love and respect God says we are to offer to both our parents. I wish my parents were still alive, so that I could do that, but I am truly grateful that God gave me the parents he did, even with their shortcomings, as, overall, He used those influences to shape me and make me the man he has called me to be.

Lord Jesus, thank you for revealing the Father to your followers, and letting us see Him in you. Allow us to reflect your glory, as you reflected His glory. Pour your love and righteousness through us, and make us emissaries of your Grace.


The Work of the Shepherds; Part 2

The Work of the Shepherds (Part Two)

Job Requirements for Elders/Overseers/Pastors:

© C. O. Bishop 7/28/16 THCF 7/31/16

1st Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; 1st Peter 5:1-4

Introduction:

Last time, we talked about the Work of the Shepherds, and we concentrated on the nature of the job: what the shepherd is expected to do. Where I work, as part of my job, I teach classes on Certified Welding Inspection. In the course of the 12-week class, we thoroughly discuss the nature of the job, and how to accomplish each task. My goal is to prepare the students for a national exam offered locally, twice a year. That exam consists of three 2-hour tests, all of which have to be passed, in order to qualify for certification. You really have to be well prepared, in order to pass. The exam costs over $1000, to apply… if you fail, you do not get a refund.

Welding inspection is serious business. A team of welding inspectors over in Minneapolis, a few years back, found cracks in a bridge. They recommended more inspections. (How would that help?? The welds are already cracked!) The bridge collapsed soon afterward, during rush-hour traffic, killing a number of innocent people. No inspector was held responsible…they had properly inspected, and had found the cracks. Someone else had made the decision to keep using the bridge. As far as I know, no one was held responsible. But God does hold the Shepherds accountable for what they do with his flock! The job of shepherding a church is far more serious than that of inspecting welds. Remember what God said in Ezekiel 34: “Woe unto you shepherds!” Why? Because they had not been doing the job correctly. He charged them with seven counts of nonfeasance of duty, including at least one of outright malfeasance. Spiritual Shepherding affects lives for eternity…not just for today.

When I train welding inspectors, one of the things that comes up is the qualifications for the job. One requirement, obviously, is passing those three rigorous tests. But other qualifications have to do with the inspector’s level of education and/or experience. Still others have to do with visual acuity. One of my students was deeply disappointed to find that color-blindness is a disqualifier, too. His vision was otherwise good, and he has the necessary education and experience, as well as stellar character; but he suffered from one particular type of color-blindness (blue-green, I think); so, no matter how else he was qualified, that one thing disqualified him. It is a sad situation, but that is the truth. It is possible for a person to be of stellar character in every other way, but still be disqualified from a particular job for something very simple. I knew a man who was a fighter-pilot, in a certain specific type of military aircraft. He assured me that it was entirely possible to be “too big for the job.” (Sorry—you do have to be able to fit into that thing, mister!) It was a simple fact of practicality, and reflected in no way on the person.

So, along with the discussion regarding the work of Shepherds, we find it necessary to talk about the job requirements of Elders. I am deliberately changing nouns, here, because it is possible for a person to carry out much of the work of shepherding, without being an Elder. All Elders are responsible, at one level or another, for shepherding, but not all shepherds are Elders.

Qualifications of Elders (Including Overseers, Bishops, Pastors, etc.)

There are three primary passages which lay out the prerequisites—the job qualifications—of church leadership; specifically, the office of “Bishop” (also called Elder, Pastor, Overseer, Shepherd, and Presbyter.) If you are taking notes, it would be good to write down these three references:

  1. 1st Timothy 3:1-7
  2. Titus 1:5-9
  3. 1st Peter 5:1-4

Collectively, these three passages give the full list of qualifications, but they only discuss the nature of the job itself in very brief terms. The passage we read two weeks ago, in Ezekiel 34, gave a much fuller treatise on the nature of the job…but no qualifications. So these are “companion passages” with the one in Ezekiel, along with many others which touch individually upon specific aspects of the job, or specific character requirements.

Now, some may think that the qualifications are too stringent: sorry—I did not write them. On the other hand, it is possible to interpret those requirements in such a way as to render them so restrictive as to be useless. We want to avoid the latter, while not diminishing in any way the gravity of the job, and the serious nature of the qualifications. In order to do so, we must bear in mind the purpose of the requirements: we are to use these requirements as a means by which to recognize someone whom God is raising up as a leader…not to “screen out” people we consider to be “unworthy”, or something.

To begin with, I must point out that these requirements are also not a “grab-bag”; they are neither a smorgasbord, nor a “wish-list”. They are real requirements, and every elder is required to fit all of them, to one degree or another. We recognize that different peoples’ gifts will make them “shine” in one area, while they are “just satisfactory” in others. That is another good reason for a plurality of elders in a church. The gifts of all those elders, hopefully, will supplement and complement one another, to better meet the needs of the Church.

1st Timothy 3:1-7 (Speaking about Elders/Overseers.)

1This is a true saying, if a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.
A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach;
Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
(For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)
Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

We can see a clear list of requirements; some are easily understood, some not so easily. We will try to discuss them all.

Job Requirements from 1st Timothy 3:

  1. Desiring the job. If a person is unwilling to take the responsibility, or simply hasn’t the heart for the work, then they should not be considered for the office of Elder, even though they may qualify in every other way. In this sense, I could say it is a “calling”, though I am careful with that word. Every single believer is called to serve. (Romans 8:28-30)
  2. Blameless—above reproach. This literally means “there is nothing in his life that one could lay hold of” and make legitimate accusation. It embraces all that follows, so that the list is not a smorgasbord, from which you just choose as many as you want. They all have to be there.
  3. Husband of one wife. This is one that invites controversy. On the one extreme, we have those who insist that the candidate must be married, and can only have been married once: if his wife dies or leaves him, regardless of circumstance, he is no longer qualified. On the other side we have those who say it only means a “one-woman man”.
    The fact is, it does literally say “man of one woman” in the Greek. But, the Greek words andra, (Man) and guné (Woman) are also used to mean “husband” and “wife”. So it could mean “husband of one wife”. I try to compare the whole context, here: all the requirements—all of them—are character traits, or gifting. If this one is a “track-record” issue, rather than a character trait, then it is the only one such. In every case, the current track-record (perhaps since they have been a believer, or perhaps only since maturity as a believer) simply serves to demonstrates the character that God has developed in the man.
    I have known several men whose wife left them under circumstances over which the man had no control. He never demonstrated any character flaw in the matter. But many organizations would reject him for service. On the other hand, I have observed that if there is a character flaw involved, it will eventually resurface, in a repeating pattern.
  4. This is one we are all urged to embrace. Peter said (1st Peter 5:8) “be sober; be vigilant…” why? Because there is a deadly enemy prowling the world. An Elder must be continually aware of the dangers to the flock.
  5. Same thing. It means taking life pretty seriously…and the work of the shepherd absolutely seriously. This isn’t “kid-stuff.”
  6. Of Good Behavior. Remember that an elder is to be setting an example for the rest of the flock. We see this one explained in 1st Peter 5:3.
  7. Given to Hospitality. The Greek word literally means the “love of the stranger” (philoxenon). It means that he is going to have an open-armed policy toward “outsiders”…welcoming them, not desiring to be isolated from them.
  8. Apt to teach. As far as I can tell, this is the only requirement that is a gifting issue. If it simply meant “able to teach” then it would be pointless, as everyone is able to teach something. But a teacher, in the New Testament is a person gifted to understand and transfer understanding of spiritual truth, from God’s Word, so that others can profit thereby. Some translations say “qualified” to teach; that is not accurate. The Greek word is “didaktikon”, and in modern Greek language it just means “teaching”, whereas “didaskalos” still means “teacher”.
  9. Not Given to Wine. This one seems obvious, but is reiterated elsewhere, as “not given to much wine”… in other words, he has no addiction to drink. I expect that we could extend that to other social drugs as well. It is just that alcohol was about the only one available in that time and place. But I do think it is talking about addictions, not dependencies. I don’t think that a person whose physical condition requires, by a doctor’s order, that they be on medication, is thereby disqualified from service. (But there have been organizations that took that stance.) This is talking about a character issue, not a medical issue.
  10. No Striker. Not a violent person. Not one who resorts to violence to assert his will, or to settle a dispute. It does not forbid self-defense, military service, police service, etc. There are many whose jobs occasionally require physical violence who have never been in a fight anywhere else. They simply do the job when it is required…it does not reflect on their character.
  11. Not Greedy of Filthy Lucre. Some translations say “sordid gain”. He’s not in the church for the sake of personal gain. Money is not an issue. No avarice in his character.
  12. This is actually translated from the Greek word epieike, and this is the only place it is translated “patient”—usually, it is translated “gentle”. Most newer translations render it that way. And, it fits, as it is in contrast to the next one:
  13. Not a Brawler. (Greek amachos) This is not just talking about physical fighting, but general cantankerousness…argumentativeness, belligerence…trouble-hunting. It literally means without striving, but it certainly would include without fighting.
  14. Not covetous. This one is similar to the one about “not greedy of sordid gain”…it literally means “free from the love of money.” (Greek philargurion “love of silver”)
  15. One Who Rules Well His Own House. This is strictly about family life; home life. How does he handle his own wife and kids? How does he treat them, and make decisions there? What have the results been?
  16. Not a Novice. A certain level of maturity and experience needs to be in place before a man should be considered for leadership. Fortunately, as maturity develops, a man who is gifted to serve in this capacity also begins serving, choosing to voluntarily shoulder responsibility, and faithfully discharging that responsibility. How a person takes responsibility and then does the task they have embraced is a good mark of maturity.
    Appointing an immature believer to the office of an elder is a sure way to produce a stumbling block of pride in his life, possibly destroying the testimony of the man you were hoping to see in leadership. Be very careful not to cross this line. By the way, this has to do with spiritual maturity, not just chronological age. There are some who never grow up. Their age will not be the deciding factor, but rather their maturity in Christ.
  17. Having a good report of them which are without. How does the unbelieving community in your area see the man? Does he have a reputation for honesty, kindness, and integrity? Remember, those unbelievers are not enamored of his “pulpit presence” nor his “bedside manner.” They are dealing with him in entirely secular matters. How does he deal with the lost world around him, and how are they responding to him? (By the way, this rules out hiring a pastor from outside the community: a letter of recommendation cannot fulfil this requirement. And, how much more important it must be, that the local assembly of believers also know him and his family?)

Some of the above requirements are simply reiterated or re-stated, in Titus and 1st Peter, but we will address those passages as well.

Titus 1:5-9 (Speaking about Elders)

5For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee:
If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.

  1. Plurality of elders (as we have seen in every case) is taught here, in verse 5.
  2. Having believing children, not accused of riot or unruly. Verse 6 reiterates some of the qualifications listed in 1st Timothy, but expands upon the issue of children: This is where we get the idea that an elder’s children must not be “out of control”. There are people who take this to mean that “if he has no children, he is not qualified.” I believe if he does have children, and they are out of control, then perhaps he needs to deal with that, rather than further burdening himself with something bigger. Again, I think this is a case where “track-record demonstrates character”: one may have a reputation for having well-behaved children, and later those same children may choose to rebel and walk away from God. If a man has children at home, are they in good control? That is the issue.
  3. The overseer (bishop, elder) is the Steward of God. He has to be faithful to feed the flock. There can be no laxity in one’s attitude toward the task. (See 2nd Timothy 2:2 Reliability is the issue. Can the flock count on him…always?)
  4. Not self-willed. The Man of God has to be in submission to God. This is not a popularity contest, or a personality cult, so there is no place for a big ego. This is a place to emulate Christ, in saying “not my will, but Thine be done!” This is a place to take a step back, and put other people’s desires and plans ahead of his own.
  5. Not Soon Angry. Patience and long-suffering should preclude a “short fuse”, or a bad temper. It should be really difficult to get a man angry, who is truly submitted to God.
  6. A lover of good Men. Who does he hang around with? This is the old “birds of a feather flock together” idea. If you can see that the people around whom he is most comfortable are people who are secular, or ungodly, then maybe there is a hidden problem.
  7. Fair, in his dealings with others. Having a right walk with God, and demonstrating it, in his dealings with others.
  8. Separated to God’s service. He is no longer his own man. He belongs to Jesus.
  9. In good control in all areas of life. His sin nature is not in control…God is.
  10. Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught. Able to understand and remember sound doctrine, to the extent of being able and willing to stand for truth, and back it up from the Bible. Paul goes on to say that there are some people whose mouths need to be closed by sound teaching, to keep them from engaging in false teaching. That is part of the elder’s job, in defending the flock from predators.

1st Peter 5:1-4 (Speaking to Elders)

1The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed:
Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind;
Neither as being lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock.
And when the chief Shepherd shall appear, ye shall receive a crown of glory that fadeth not away.

Most of this passage is “task-oriented,” as to “how the job is to be carried out” but we can glean a few more job-requirement ideas, too:

  1. Not by Constraint. The task is to be done willingly, not “because you have to”. If you are unwilling, then don’t take the job. It is one thing to see the task as something that “needs to be done”, but entirely another to feel that you are being “forced” to do it.
  2. Not for Filthy Lucre. The elder is not to be motivated by a hope for gainful employment. That is not what this is about. Virtually every good pastor I have known could have earned better money elsewhere, in a secular job, with less stress. I know of a few exceptions, but the issue here, is that money is not to be what drives a man to serve.
  3. Of a Ready Mind. The elder is both a “draftee” and a volunteer. He is called to this work, possibly reluctantly (consider Jeremiah 1:4-7), but he is also a volunteer (consider Isaiah 6:1-8.) Yes, you have been “called,” but you still have to say, “Here am I, Lord, send me!” You have to answer that call willingly.
  4. Not as Lords over God’s Heritage. You are not the “Big Cheese”. If you want this job so people will honor you, you really should find something else to do—be a politician, maybe, or an entertainer. This is not about power, or position, or personal glory; it is about service, and submission to God.
  5. Examples to the Flock. You have to take this one seriously. You are a role model, whether you like it or not. You are supposed to be leading by example. It is not acceptable to not “practice what you preach.” You must lead by example.
  6. Finally: Expect your reward from Jesus. He is our master, and the one to whom we look for reward. If you get confused about that, so that being an elder or pastor is just a job; a way to earn an income, then you have forgotten whom you serve, and should just go get a secular job somewhere. If Jesus is really the One whom you serve, then all the frustrations of the job will just be part of dealing with Sheep, and you are joining the True Shepherd in His work, and will join him in his joy and His reward.

Conclusion:

That is what the scriptures say regarding the qualification of Elders. God takes it seriously: I trust that we can also take it seriously, and apply it to our lives as a Church.

Lord Jesus, turn our eyes upon you, the Great Shepherd, and let us see your perfect example. Raise up men to oversee your flock. The Harvest is plenteous, as you have said, but the laborers are few.
Make us your laborers, and raise us up into your service.