Posts Tagged ‘humility’

“Unanswered” Prayers?

Practical Holiness and Unanswered Prayers

© 2020 C. O. Bishop

James 4:1-7

Introduction:

We often wonder why our prayer life seems ineffectual, and either bemoan that “God doesn’t answer,” or cynically declare that “prayer makes no difference, because God will just do whatever His plan was, anyway.” Both ideas are wrong, and the truth is more related to the character of our relationship with God than it is anything else. James begins by backing up and asking a rhetorical question, and then answers it, and begins to build upon the answer.

Human Sin

1From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts that war in your members? Ye lust, and have not: ye kill, and desire to have, and cannot obtain: ye fight and war, yet ye have not, because ye ask not.

Here, the “you” (plural) to whom James speaks, is the whole human race. There had been no instance (at that time) of literal wars happening between believers, though it has happened more recently. But the history of the human race is absolutely riddled with warfare, raids, murders, enslavement, etc., in every nation, and in virtually every culture, at one time or another. And James recognized the source of the problem: that, far from being just some “force of nature”, or “artifact of human imperfection”, those wars and evil behaviors specifically come from our sinful desires.

Whether the desire is for political ascendancy, more land, more power of any sort, natural resources, or any other thing, the fact is that we, the human race, are willing to commit violence to satisfy our desires. That forces the other party to commit violence in defense: they really have little choice. But invariably, they end up wanting revenge, not just defense. So the cycle goes on, and repeats itself. If we want to see the original source, we can read Isaiah 14:12-15. There we see how Lucifer, the “Light-bearer,” through his desire for power and glory, became Satan, the “Adversary.” We have adversarial relationships with one another because of our sinful, selfish desires, and, ultimately, we, as a race, are adversaries of God thereby as well.

Romans 5:10 agrees with this idea, stating that we were enemies of God (prior to being saved) and that Jesus died for us while we were in that status, not after repentance or because of some “pre-christian” status. (There is no such thing as a “pre-christian,” by the way. We start off as enemies of God, and, if we die in that position, we are eternally lost. If God can bring us to repentance then we make a full transition to being children of God, and are credited with the righteousness of Christ.)

So, this passage tells us why the state of man is so filled with violence. God made a point of this clear back in Genesis 6:12, noting that the earth was corrupt and filled with violence. He also stated, (Genesis 6:5) that every thought of the imagination of man’s heart was only evil continually. “Well (we may protest) that was before the flood. We are all sprung from Noah, today!) So then, after the flood, things should have improved, right? Let’s see what God said: (Genesis 8:21) “…the imagination of man’s heart is evil from his youth…” The only people present were Noah, his wife, his three sons, and their respective wives! Eight persons comprised the world’s entire population! And God said they were full of evil!

So…if that is the state of man, what chance do we have for improvement? On our own effort? None at all! That is why Jesus became a human being, lived a perfect life so as to qualify as our redeemer, and willingly became our blood-sacrifice at Calvary. He did this so that we could be born from above…born again, with a new nature, which is capable of living for God. What about that old nature? It is still there, otherwise all the warnings of the New Testament would be pointless, as believers would be incapable of sin!

But the truth is that our old nature is completely incapable of being transformed, healed, or salvaged. It is not only corrupt but it is still actively being corrupted. When we sin, we feed our old nature, and it is strengthened. But our new nature is completely holy, like the One who created it. So we are left with a perpetual fight to maintain a Christian life.

James knew all of this, but rather than go into detail explaining it to fellow-Jewish Christians, he built on their knowledge of the Word, and moved forward. (We Gentiles frequently have to go back and read the Old Testament Scriptures in order to catch up.)

Unanswered Prayer

3 Ye ask, and receive not, because ye ask amiss, that ye may consume it upon your lusts.

When we think of prayer, our opinions may run everywhere from “prayer is a waste of breath, because God is just going to do what He wants to do, anyway” all the way to the idea that God is a “celestial vending machine” who will give us whatever we ask for, if we either ask often enough, or ask with the right formula, or something. Both of those ideas are sadly mistaken, though both have elements of truth.

God does commit Himself to righteousness, and to His own perfect plan, though His plan may seem chaotic to us. We need to realize that what seems rather random and directionless, to us, is actually quite controlled, but so unimaginably complex as to easily evade our understanding. We humans can create machines, computer programs, to produce “random” numbers, but the fact is that they are simply taking whatever micro-millisecond that the computer clock is at, at the moment you give the command, and applying an extremely complex formula to that number, so rapidly that we cannot hope to follow it. Since we have no way to know the exact time we gave the command, and no way to track the math, the resulting number seems completely random to us, but, in reality, it was completely planned: we are just unable to see the plan.

Isn’t it odd that we are willing to entrust our lives and money and health to a computer, designed, built and programmed by humans, who, in turn, were programmed by their own sin, but we are not so willing to trust the God who designed and built us, though He is not contaminated by our sin? Give that some thought!

Prerequisites to Answered Prayer

Over in Hebrews 11:6, it says that “without faith it is impossible to please God, for he that cometh unto God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him.” We have to begin with the conviction that God exists, and that He is good, beyond comprehension: that He is the creator and designer of all good, and that even the evil in the world is not “outside” His oversight.

We live, today, in the ruins of what was created a perfect world, but which was devastated by sin: we live with the evidence of that destruction all around us: even in the majesty of the peaks, where we see the layered sediments as mute testimony of the flood, and the broken, ragged ridges; evidence of the continental breakup still in motion today. So, within the wreckage of “life after the Fall of Man” we need to realize that God’s ultimate good is still in control, but there are still the ugly realities to deal with: life in a fallen world; life with fallen humans as our fellow-travelers. When we pray, we need to realize that sometimes the things we want are not in keeping with a greater plan of God.

Therefore, we are admonished over in 1st John that there are some prerequisites to answered prayer:

  1. We, ourselves, have to be in obedience to God, so that we are not already at cross-purposes to His sovereignty. (Yes, it is not only possible to be at cross-purposes to God, it is so common as to be nearly universal. 1st John 3:18-24)
  2. We have to ask in accordance with His revealed will. (1st John 5:14, 15) This takes some study and growth, on our part, to even know, as an over-arching concept, what that will is, let alone His will for any given matter. But God does reserve the right to reply in one of three ways:
    1. Yes,” which is what we always want.
    2. No,” which is what we really mean, when we claim that “God didn’t answer me!” or,
    3. “Wait,” which is very commonly perceived as “no;” but we need to be patient and find out whether our petition has been denied for cause, or simply deferred because a better occasion is coming soon.

So, how does God see our Allegiances with the World?

Finally, here in James, we see that we frequently are turned away because of wrong motives. The wrong motives, whatever the reason, would automatically place us in the category of “not praying according to God’s Will.”

Ye adulterers and adulteresses, know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.

Remember that we all begin as the enemies of God: Romans 5:8-10 made this clear. So, having been born again, and no longer being citizens of this world, we need to change our allegiances, as well. It is not that we are not to befriend the people of the world…Remember? “God so loved the World….” But we are to sever our allegiance to the world’s system of thought, and its values and morals.

The people in the world, every single one of them, are created in the image of God, and are precious souls for whom Jesus has already shed His blood. And yet, even there, we are encouraged to make friends of God’s friends. King Jehoshaphat, in 2nd Chronicles 19:1-3, was rebuked for having allied himself with King Ahab, an evil man, in a war (previous chapter.) God eliminated Ahab through a “random” arrow, but Jehoshaphat had survived the battle.

On his way back home, a prophet, named Jehu, met him on the road, and delivered God’s rebuke. The alliance was the issue; the military partnership with a nation that was already at odds with God. We are not to make alliances or partnerships with people who are at cross-purposes against God. 2nd Corinthians 6:14-18 spells this out very clearly: we are not to be “unequally yoked” with unbelievers. (This includes, of course, the partnership of marriage. Believers are not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Have there been people who were tricked into believing that their intended spouse was a believer, only to discover later that it was a lie? Certainly there have been, and God knows that. He addresses that elsewhere.)

This caution against “Friendship with the World” in no way cancels our “debt” to those around us, to offer the love of God, and the Gospel of Christ. (Romans 1:14-16; 13:8). Most will reject the Gospel, and we know that, but we still have the obligation to make the offer of eternal life and the forgiveness of sins to those around us.

But, if we continue to embrace the world’s way of thinking, then, at least at a functional level, we are still behaving as the enemies of God. This is the practice and mindset that we are to abandon, wholesale, and avoid completely. The attitude and arrogance, and duplicity of the world, along with its constant message of self-importance and self-will, is completely repugnant to God. We need to guard against being drawn back to those values. When we find that we are setting aside known directives and values of God in favor of what seems appropriate from a human perspective, then we have already crossed the line, even if we think we are doing something “good.”


Grieving the Holy Spirit

Do ye think that the scripture saith in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy?

I am given to believe that the “Spirit,” here, is the Holy Spirit (in spite of the lack of capitalization in the KJV): and that the desire the Spirit has, is for us to learn to devote ourselves completely to God. We tend to only see the word “lust” as referencing sexual desire, but it actually means any strong desire, and not necessarily even an evil desire. Our own spirit is never said to “dwell” in us, as it is truly part of who we are (body, soul, and spirit, see 1st Thessalonians 5:23.) Since that is the case, then I do not see this as our own human spirit, since the Holy Spirit is said to dwell in us, and as the third member of the Godhead, He certainly has some strong desires where God’s Will is concerned. Over in Galatians 5:17, it says that “the flesh (old sin nature) lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh…” In that context, at least, the spirit in question is definitely the Holy Spirit. I believe it is, here in James 4:5, as well. But even if that is settled, and if I am correct, I still have to decide what the “desire” of the Holy Spirit is, for us:

In the Old Testament, God claims to be a “jealous God,” desiring his people to serve Him alone, and not go after other gods. In fact, he refers to this sinful practice as spiritual adultery. He considered Israel to be wedded to Himself, and, as a husband, He was jealous of her attention to the foreign, false, evil gods of the nations around her.

We, as the Church-age believers, are called the “Bride of Christ.” Is it surprising, then, that the Holy Spirit jealously calls us to separate ourselves from our old ways and walk with Him alone? Specifically, that He calls us to drop our “friendship with the World”, and draw close to the Lord who bought us out of slavery to sin? I think it is perfectly understandable, and right. In Ephesians 4:30, we are cautioned to “…grieve not the Holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption.” If we are grieving the Holy Spirit by our attitudes, our actions, or our allegiances, then we definitely should not expect that our prayers will be received as we want them to be. The Psalmist (Psalm 66:18) says “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.” It does not say that He cannot hear, but that He will not hear us.

How can we overcome this pattern? Humility!

But he giveth more grace. Wherefore he saith, God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.

This is a hard passage to apply: we never like to admit to ourselves that we are “proud people.” But, when our pride is causing arguments, division, and a stiff-necked disobedience, then we are not in a condition to be blessed by God. Instead, He has to resist us at every turn. The scripture never lists pride as a “positive” trait. It sometimes lists it as an “ordinary” thing, for example, he mentions a strong man glorying in his strength, but even then, he cautions that it is a temporary, fleeting glory. Pride and self-will are, simply stated, in opposition to God, so He has no choice but to oppose us, and resist us, in our pride. If we want to enjoy God’s Grace, then we need to willingly humble ourselves, so that He does not have to do it, teaching us humility the hard way.

The next verse is easy to misunderstand, as well:
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

This verse must be taken in its entirety: Satan is not “afraid of believers.” But He cannot stand before God. So, a believer, not only indwelt by the Holy Spirit, but also in submission to Him, and thus able to resist Satan, is not just a helpless sheep, ready to become the prey of Satan, but, instead, is a powerful partner of Christ, and is at least dangerous to the plans and programs of the evil one. Consider a wild animal…a coyote: though he is unafraid of a horse alone, when it sees the same horse with a man in the saddle, he runs for cover. It isn’t the horse that frightens him; it is the man directing the horse that is dangerous. The coyote knows that people are his enemies and that they are quite able to kill at a distance.

When we are in submission to God, we are dangerous to the kingdom of darkness. But without that first clause in verse seven (submit yourself therefore to God,) the second clause would be a laughable fallacy. In our own strength, we cannot resist the evil one. We are automatically submitted to him, in fact, when we are not submitted to God.

We only have two natures: Either we will submit ourselves to the Lord Jesus, and see His power working in our lives, or we will, by default, submit ourselves to the evil one, and we will increasingly see him damaging our lives, our testimony, and our happiness.

Where are you now?

There is no middle ground: when we were unbelievers, we thought that we were “free” from the influence of either God or Satan. Indeed, we counted ourselves the “masters of our fates, and the captains of our souls,” as the poem “Invictus” boasts. But we were deceived, and, in fact, were completely, blindly, under the sway of the evil one. We had no conscious knowledge of our plight, and we thought that we were free. Now we have freedom to choose, but there is still no middle ground. We will either serve Jesus, consciously, and willingly, or we will serve Satan, unconsciously, and whether we like it or not.

I frequently think of Samson: Because of his inconsistent, continually “sloppy” walk with God, in spite of the fact that he was a genuine believer, and a man of God, who is even listed in Hebrews 11 as a hero of the faith, he ended up being physically blinded, and working as a prisoner and a slave, under the Philistines, his mortal enemies. A believer today can end up being spiritually blinded, and working for his great enemy, Satan…and not even know that he has again become a slave to sin.

All I can do is look and see where I am: what does the fruit in my life look like: am I being a blessing to the people around me; and am I a “fragrance of Christ,” or am I a curse and a stumbling-block? Do I pray for them with an honest heart, desiring the best for their lives, or am I mostly praying for them to change, so I will be more comfortable? Do I see the people around me as precious souls for whom Jesus died, or do I see them mostly as an irritation, causing me inconvenience and distress? What are my real motives in life? Are they the same as those Jesus displayed, or are they self-centered, just like those of the World?

These are things we can think about, as we examine ourselves in the mirror of God’s Word. These are the things we need to consider, when we question the effectiveness of prayer, and when we wonder where our joy in life has gone.

Please consider carefully, and choose rightly how to respond.



Christ: Our Prime Example

Christ: Our Prime Example 

© C. O. Bishop 11/14/2017 Cornell Estates 11/19/2017

Philippians 2:1-13

Introduction:

In chapter one, we saw that Paul had hoped to travel to Philippi, and to see the believers there once more. We also found that one of the reasons he loved them is that they had shared in his danger, in his privations, and in his sufferings. They were partners with him in the work of world evangelization. His last words were to the effect that they were experiencing the same conflict and warfare as he was experiencing…and they knew it, but they pressed on anyway. On the basis of this fellowship and Love, he exhorted them to continue in unity, humility and love.

 

Fulfilled Joy in Unity, Humility and Love:

1 If there be therefore any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any bowels and mercies,

It does not seem that Paul is questioning whether, in fact, Jesus could or would produce consolation, etc. in a believer’s life, but rather was saying if you are experiencing these things (and it is understood that you ought to be) then let them result in unity and humilty.

Unity:

2 Fulfil ye my joy, that ye be likeminded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind.

  • Likeminded—in agreement with the person of Christ
  • Having the same (mutual) love (agape) for one another that Jesus commanded
  • Being of one accord (in harmony with one another), and
  • Of one mind: doctrinally in unity

Humility

3 Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves.
4 Look not every man on his own things, but every man also on the things of others.

There was not to be any self-centeredness. They were not to be vying for prestige, but rather “stepping back” to allow one another to take precedence. We are not to seek the limelight, so to speak. We are not in competition against one another. (The disciples had a problem with that: “Who shall be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?”)

It is important that we see each other as family, or, at the very least, team-mates. I remember being on a wrestling team, and really wanting all my team-mates to win. I wanted to win, too, but every individual win increased our chances of winning as a team. So, even if I did not like a particular person on our team, I wanted that person to win, for the sake of the team. And, whatever I could do to support them in that regard, I did.

We are on a “wrestling team,” of sorts, as well: Paul said in Ephesians 6:12 “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age…” Those evil forces against whom we are at war will grab any advantage against us, so that a wounded brother or sister can be used against us. It is our responsibility to extend the genuine agape love of Christ, and His commitment and care to all the believers around us. Otherwise we are leaving the church open to attacks from the enemy.

How many terrible church fights and ugly church splits could have been avoided through obedience to these four verses? Probably every single one, if we are honest with ourselves.

Humility is not self-degradation: it is a “deliberate step back”, to allow someone else to be important; to allow someone else to be at peace. In the long run, it results from sobriety: if we see ourselves clearly, in the light of God’s Word, there is no place for pride. We haven’t a single thing of value except the gifts He has given, and those gifts…are just that: gifts! We did nothing to earn them or deserve them.  Jesus demonstrated this supernatural humility when he came into this world. Paul exhorts us to follow His example. Let’s examine it in detail:

 

Jesus’ Seven-fold Example:

5 Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus:
6 Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

Jesus was really and truly God in the Flesh: but he didn’t strut around making sure everyone knew he was God. He simply walked around doing what His Father sent him to do, without calling undue attention to himself. This passage is sometimes called the “Kenosis” passage: the “self-emptying” of Christ.

7 But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men:
8 And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

We can see a seven-fold self-emptying, here:

  1. He did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped at—or clung to;
  2. He set aside the honor and prerogatives of deity (making himself of no reputation) and literally became a “nobody”. He was never honored as an important member of society
  3. He took on a much lower form—that of a created being, though he was the Creator; that of a servant, though He was the ultimate Lord and Master.
  4. He was made in the form of a man—in fact, arriving as men arrive—a naked, helpless baby; completely dependent upon others for food and care.
  5. He humbled There was no hint of pride in anything Jesus did on earth: no “Look at me now!” moments.
  6. He was obedient in all things, big and little, convenient and inconvenient.
  7. He was obedient even though it cost him his life. We see this as a fairly noble idea, because we associate it with heroism, and with personal honor; but: He was obedient even though it demanded total degradation as he became sin for us; the shame as he was stripped and scourged, the devastatingly cruel pain in crucifixion, and the crushing soul-agony of desertion, as his own Father rejected Him as the embodiment of Sin. This is not to be compared to “a brave soldier throwing himself on a grenade to save his comrades,” though that is noble and praiseworthy. Every single one of those soldiers/teammates deeply appreciates his sacrifice, and will never forget it. But very few of those for whom Jesus died even respect Him for it. They sneer at him and use His name for a curse. He died for the Sins of the whole World.

 

God’s Sevenfold Reward:

9 Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name:
10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth;
11 And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

Let’s count the seven ways God rewarded His faithfulness:

  1. The Father has Highly Exalted Him:
  2. Has given Him a Name which is above every name
  3. That at the name of Jesus, Every knee shall bow
  4. Of things in Heaven (the holy Angels, the righteous resurrected dead, and the raptured church)
  5. And things in Earth (whoever is living on the restored Earth…in the Millennial Kingdom, apparently), and
  6. Things under the Earth (I assume he means the inhabitants of Sheol), and
  7. That every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father. (This does not save anyone, by the way…the lost will confess it, too, but in defeat, not in joy. It is simply a fact.)

12 Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.
13 For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.

On the basis of Jesus’ example the believers are encouraged to allow God to continue his work in them, so that the “outworking” of our salvation will be behavior in keeping with God’s presence and will. There are many who attempt to use this sentence-fragment “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling”, divorced from the context of the rest of the scripture, to claim that one has to earn his salvation through works, or that one has to “work out a way to find salvation”, or some such thing. That is not at all what is being taught here, as the next verse makes it clear that GOD is the one doing all the work, both giving us the will to obey and the wherewithal to follow through.

Other passages, in very definite language, made it clear that “by Grace ye ARE saved, through Faith…not of works….” It does not take much study to discover that for every “doubtful” passage, there are several very clear passages. Part of the problem may be that people do not make a distinction between several critical differences:

  • Salvation vs. practical sanctification—holiness
  • Salvation vs. service—works
  • Law vs. Grace, etc.

A failure to recognize those differences will certainly result in bad teaching.

The people to whom Paul was talking were already believers, already saved. Paul had already stated that “He which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” How, then, would he suggest that they needed to “work to be saved”, if that is indeed what he is saying? He has already told them a lot of things that are only true of saved people.

Either:

  • They are already saved, and they are expected to rest in that truth, or
  • Salvation is a slippery goal, and one can never be sure of it.

But over in 1st John 5:11-13, God makes it clear that He wants us to know that we have eternal life. This is supposed to be a secure, completed matter, with no further doubts, so that we are free to enter into God’s service, and not having to constantly “check to see if we are saved.”

Here is 1st John 5:11-13, broken down point by point:

The Fact: This is the Record:

  1. God had given unto us eternal life, and
  2. This life is in His Son.
  3. He that hath the Son, hath life, and
  4. He that hath not the Son of God, hath not

The Purpose: These things are written unto who believe on the Name of the Son of God, that

  1. You may KNOW that you have eternal life, and
  2. That you may (continue to) believe on the name of the Son of God.

Conclusion:

Every one of us is constantly faced with the question “Will I trust God, or not?” God wants us to learn to trust him, moment by moment, for all things, so that we can enjoy His continuing peace. That requires a habitual choice on our parts. If we are not experiencing His peace, this is the probable cause. Let’s consciously work on learning to trust the Lord, and, together, in true unity, to follow Jesus’ example in Faith, Humility and Love.

Lord Jesus, take away our doubts and fears, and self-centeredness, and teach us to follow your example in all things. Make us the ambassadors of your Grace to all people.

 

 


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.