The First Priority-Part One

September 17, 2006 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Titus

Scripture: Titus 1:5–9


The First Priority-Part One

Titus 1:5-9
Sunday, September 17, 2006
Pastor Randy Smith

Like any organization that involves people, leadership is necessary to manage the stability of the institution. Imagine an athlete without a coach, a cook without a chef, a soldier without a general, an Indian without a chief, or a sheep without a shepherd. Likewise, the church needs people to oversee the daily operations; to ensure responsibilities are fulfilled, care is given, conflict is resolved and direction is provided. A church without leadership would be chaotic. It would be contrary to our God of order and ineffective to fulfill His divine purpose. Somebody of accountability needs to be behind the helm to ensure the ship runs smoothly.

In our passage this morning, Paul reinforces the priority of church leadership. In verse 5 we read, "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you." Immediately after his introduction to Titus (in verses 1-4), Paul provides the young pastor with his mission objectives. Paul who was once involved in these churches had departed and Titus, now equipped with Paul's apostolic authority, is called to "set in order what remains." Obviously the ministry on the island of Crete is unfinished so Titus is commissioned to set things in order. The Greek word is epidiorthoo. It is where we derive our English word "orthodontist" and it literally means "to make straight." Just as the orthodontist's job is to straighten teeth, Titus' job was to straightened out or set in order uncompleted matters of the church. We will examine these issues as we cover this epistle, but first and foremost as you can see in verse 5 was the need to appoint church leaders, here referred to as elders. As the verse says, "Set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you" (Tit. 1:5b).

I would like to spend two sermons covering this essential information regarding the function, the character and the appointment of elders. The next time we gather here we will examine the specific 16 spiritual qualifications in detail. But this morning, I would like to provide more of a general message that considers material often misunderstood or neglected pertaining to these 5 verses from Titus 1. I trust that understanding these issues will not only enable you to think and act biblically and to rightly see church leadership as God sees church leadership, but also challenge your own spiritual walk as well.


Let's begin with the first point: "Character, Character, Character."

Few would disagree with the need for church leadership. However many are ignorant when it comes to the type of person they ought to place in these influential positions.

This issue, a very serious problem today, is nothing new. The early church also appointed inappropriate leaders. We have an account nearly sixteen hundred years old where the popular church leader, Jerome, rebuked the churches of his day for this very issue. "Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ's ministers no heed is paid" ("Letters 52").

As we contemplate the qualifications for leadership listed in Titus 1and the parallel list found in 1 Timothy 3, we discover that God is primarily concerned with a man's character. With the exception of being "able to teach" (1 Tim. 3:2) and "holding fast to the faithful word" (Tit. 1:9), every trait listed in the Scriptures pertaining to qualification deals with character. As a matter of fact, it has been said there is more in the Bible about an elder's qualifications than any other aspect regarding biblical eldership. The substance of a man, the heart of a man, the integrity of a man is the proving ground as to whether or not one is fit for the office. These universal, non-negotiable, divinely revealed requirements could not be any clearer, yet most churches have failed to follow them to their own shame and destruction when appointing elders and allowing them to remain in the ministry.

Why is that? Two reasons come to mind.

Possibly because some are ignorant. When the Bible is no longer the authoritative guide, every church will naturally do what seems best in their own eyes. In these situations, oftentimes the criteria employed are similar to the standards of leadership in the marketplace. Churches look for men with experience or valuable talents or charismatic personalities or advanced education or popularity or money or the ability to influence a crowd through story telling and humor. Not that any of these are evil- some may be quite valuable- but none of them are found in the Scripture as required elements for church leadership.

Others I believe take delight in lowering the moral standard just to pacify their own conscience and make their own sinful lifestyle more acceptable. If I took pleasure living a carnal life, what would make me more comfortable than seeing my church leaders giving approval to such a lifestyle through their actions? The more I view and criticize their faults, the easier I can justify my own.

Clear character standards are given in Scripture that must be followed. Yet the more we ignore these biblical requirements, the more our churches are filled with leaders that are unqualified - Men often in the office to stroke their own ungodly egos or passion for control, or worse, men unwittingly motivated by Satan to infiltrate and cause destruction amongst God's flock. Remember what Paul told the Ephesian elders? "And from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them" (Ac. 20:30).

As I have already alluded, these requirements are in place primarily so leaders will serve as an example to the church. Like 2:7 says, "(Titus), show yourself to be an example of good deeds." Likewise the Apostle Peter said, elders aim at "proving to be examples to the flock" (1 Pet. 5:3). Leaders should be able to say with Paul, "The things you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you" (Phil. 4:9). That is why character is the essential qualification. That is why the writer to the Hebrews told the church to "(consider) the result of (your leader's) conduct, imitate their faith." (Heb. 13:7).

Church leadership is not a "do as I say, but not as I do" mentality. A divorce may mean nothing to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, but it can disqualify an elder for life. Wild children may not discount the CEO or Wal-Mart, but it can keep a man out of office. Self-will and dishonest dealings and an overbearing spirit may be advised for the salesman, but they are unacceptable for the man who leads God's people. As Richard Baxter told ministers in his classic, The Reformed Pastor, "Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine…lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongues, and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors." Our Lord is looking for elders who can say, "Follow me as I follow Christ" (1 Cor. 11:1).

Think about it. What ground would Titus have to stand on when teaching about proper conduct and rebuking the improper conduct of the false teachers if he were not committed to Christlike behavior himself? Talk is cheap but actions speak louder than words. Godly behavior is often caught more than it is taught. Remember that parents!

As John MacArthur once wrote, "God does not call all elders to be entrepreneurs. Men who begin ministries and build them, nor does He call all elders to be producers, men who accomplish a great amount of work in the church, although those are worthy things. Neither does He call all of them to be managers, adept at mobilizing others in the Lord's service, although that, too, is a worthy thing. The Lord does, however, call all elders to be godly leaders, men who by their exemplary lives as well as their sound teaching and preaching set a pattern of virtue and devotion to the Lord for other believers to follow" (Titus, p. 23).


Second, and as a present leader, I am quick to follow the last point with this one. Though God expects exemplary lives among His leaders, He does not expect perfection and therefore the church should not either. Yes, even leaders sin. Yes, even leaders make mistakes. Yes, even leaders have room for growth. So please do not expect from your leaders what belongs to God alone!

That is why these lists that identify the qualifications never use the word "sinlessness." If they did, no one would qualify (cf. 1 Ki. 8:46; Pr. 20:9; Ecc. 7:20; 1 Jn. 1:8). Rather they use the words "above reproach" (NIV - "blameless"). Verse 6, "If any man is above reproach." Verse 7, "The overseer must be above reproach." The same applies to deacons as well (1 Tim. 3:10).

Being above reproach carries the idea of being blameless. When I was in an accountability group with some other young men at my former church, we aimed to be "Teflon men." When the accusations came flying, nothing would stick. Again, the idea is not perfection. Rather it is not being identified or marked or characterized by a pattern contrary to the qualifications identified. I like the way John Calvin put it: "By blameless, (Paul) does not mean someone who is free from every fault, for no such man could ever be found, but one marred by no disgrace that could diminish his authority - he should be a man of unblemished reputation" (Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, p. 358).

I heard a lot in my nine years of full-time ministry. I will never forget the gentlemen who said to me, "I'm watching you!" The implication was that if I made one mistake under his close scrutiny, he would leave the church. I felt like saying, "How would you feel if your wife said that to you?" I should have said, "Come over and I'll share all my faults, so you can spend that valuable time not watching me but praying for me." If you look long enough you will see faults in all of our leaders. But remember, my friends, we are not called to be perfect. We are called to be above reproach.

And if we were to identify one aspect that marks the life of a church leader, it would be this term, "above reproach" (aengkletos - Literally, "not called into account"). It is the overall requirement, the word that governs the entire list. Being above reproach is overarching, a broad category whereby every other trait that follows is subsumed under this banner.


The third point I would like to make also follows quickly after the first two. Even if you are not presently a leader or never desire to be a leader in the church, every one of these character traits applies specifically to your life as well.

That's right! It is not about going through this list, ignoring your own walk with God and sizing up the elder board. Remember what we learned last week in verse 1? The goal from God is to lead people to faith in Christ and then observe them progressively grow in godliness! This list and the examination of your own life against it is an indication as to how you are progressing in this Christian maturity. So do not see it as a machete to hack away at others, but rather as a mirror to reflect your own character and project goals for spiritual growth.

As a matter of fact, the Lord warns us about reproving another when our own life fails to match up to the accusations. We call that hypocrisy. Jesus did as well. "Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye" (Mt. 7:3-5; cf. Gal. 6:1).

This list should not be seen as material for the eyes of church leaders only. On the contrary, it should be seen as material for all Christians who are Spirit-filled and bent on pleasing the Lord through character that imitates Him and brings glory to His name. Isn't that what Paul commanded in Titus 2:12, for all of us to "live…righteously and godly in the present age?"

Imagine a whole church that sought to manifest these 16 character traits. What power! What unity! What a testimony to a watching world! Yes, all who claim the name of Christ should be identified by this list. Paul is only telling the church to make sure the elders they appoint to the office are among them.

Allow me to go a little further. The whole church in Crete, no different than the whole church in Lake Como, must meet these qualifications to implement Paul's instruction that follows in this epistle.

For example, chapter 2 calls people to serve and minister to each other (Tit. 2:2-10). That won't happen if a whole church is self-willed. Chapter 2 also calls us to give our opponent nothing bad to say about us (Tit. 2:8). That won't happen if our marriages are in shambles and our kids are running wild. Chapter 3 calls us "to malign no one, to be peaceable (and gentle)" (Tit. 3:2). That won't happen if we are quick-tempered and pugnacious.

One more observation. Just because a man meets the qualifications for leadership, it does not necessarily imply that he must become an elder or deacon. To think that those in office meet these qualifications and those not in office must all fall short is a faulty assumption. Based on these character issues, I believe many men in this church surpass me. I even know one lady whom I happen to live with that far surpasses me!

All Christians should meet these qualifications, but God only calls certain men to these positions of leadership. Therefore these men must be qualified, and we must not imply that those not in leadership have some character defect holding them back.


Moving on to the fourth point. Titus in verse 5 was called by Paul to "appoint elders." Along those lines, I often receive the question, "How are elders to be appointed in the church?"

The Scriptures are fairly vague on this concept. In Acts 6 we see the Apostles call the church to select men whom the Apostles will commission to serve in a deacon capacity (Ac. 6:1-6). In Acts 14 we see Paul and Barnabas appoint and commission the elders themselves (Ac. 14:23). The Scripture seems to put more emphasis on a man's character than it does the method for appointing leaders. Therefore I believe we have some freedom in this area.

Yet it is important to note that church leaders are ultimately appointed by God and not people. In Acts 20:28 we read, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers." God is the one who calls a man into office. And God reveals that not only by the man's character but also his desire. First Timothy 3:1, "If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." Therefore as humans, it is only our responsibility through prayer and fasting (Ac. 13:3; 14:23) to recognize the men that God has already chosen. Remember, it is God who makes and calls a leader to office.

Considering this, I like the way we seek to recognize God's men here at the Grace Tabernacle. We welcome individuals to come forward if they believe God is calling them to the office of elder. As a board we interview them and if qualified, present them to the church. The church is given time to examine their lives, go to them with issues and then vote on their acceptance. Those accepted serve a one-year probationary term. There is further examination now handling elder responsibilities (and also the opportunity for the man to discern if this is God's will for their lives). If successful, they are confirmed with another congregational vote to the office of elder to serve a lifetime term unless disqualified. Again, it is only our desire as a church to recognize those whom God has already called to this position.

And it is this element of God's calling that not only gets a man in office but also keeps a man in office. Things may appear very glamorous from the outside, but shortly into the work reality hits home in a very cruel way. The workload is immense. The pressure is intense (and I was a Jr. High teacher before I went into the ministry!). The responsibility is a weight borne only by the grace of God. Hard decisions often misunderstood by the congregation. Late night prayer meetings seen only by God. Overwhelming situations that call for the wisdom of Solomon. Marriages suffering, factious men dividing, church issues managing, unity maintaining and dear souls backsliding - are among the many heart-wrenching burdens that are carried on a continual basis. Your call is to motivate people who are busy, under-appreciated and not paid. You can't fire them, flunk them or bench them. They have no external reason to be with you and if you say something they don't like, sometimes they will find another place to worship. And all this to say, you are in the position, first in line to receive the finger of God demanding a full account.

Listen to me; often the only thing that keeps you going in leadership is the need to be obedient to God's calling.


Finally, point number 6, "It's God's House." The beginning of verse 7 reads, "For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward."

The concept of a steward (oikonomos) was common in the time of Paul's writing. For such a person was chosen by an individual to manage one's business, property or household (cf. Lk. 12:42). The steward assumed full responsibility for that which was entrusted to his care. It was a position of great accountability that resulted in rewards or chastisement based on the steward's performance. But it is important to remember, the steward was a paid manager and not the owner of the assets.

In the same way, elders are stewards of God's household (1 Tim. 3:15). They are undershepherds to the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ who ultimately creates, owns and builds His church. But God has given oversight to certain people He has called by the Holy Spirit to spiritually feed, lead and protect His precious church. This is not my church, but God's church. And each of our three elders has been entrusted with a great stewardship to which we will all give an account (Heb. 13:17). And each of us is blessed to be your servants.

With all this said, I leave you with a few questions of application:

  • Are we doing all we can to select our leaders based upon the requirements of Scripture?

  • Are we holding our leaders accountable to a lifestyle above reproach or are we placing upon them the unrealistic expectation of perfection?

  • Are we thankful for our leaders? Do we honor their calling? Are we grateful for their service?

  • Men, do you realize you are called to be a leader in your home? Providentially, that's our topic this Saturday morning at Men's Discipleship. Can you spare a couple hours to grow in this area?

  • Are we all examining our own lives in the light of the character traits listed in Titus 1?

  • Jesus called us to give Him first-place in everything. Is that our genuine desire? We can't fool Him, but are we fooling ourselves? I think we'll find out when we resume this study.

More in Titus

December 17, 2006

The Good And The Gloom Of Body Life

December 10, 2006

Prepared To Meet God

November 26, 2006

The Biblical Response Toward Authority