Renewing Our Values: “A Question of Character” – 1 Timothy 3:1-7

character 1Over the past few weeks, some in the press have been remembering the shooting of President John Kennedy in Dallas fifty years ago, and that thought led me to the bookshelf of “old reads”… Dr. Thomas Reeves may not be a household name across America, but he is very well known in Wisconsin, as a thoughtful academic, and an accomplished writer. In the dawn of the twenty-first century, he wrote an unusual book about President John Fitzgerald Kennedy. That work, A Question of Character: A Life of John F. Kennedy measured a staggering 544 pages in the paperback edition, and included a riveting study of the disparaging differences between the public persona and the private man behind the mythology. Reeves offered specific evidence for the picture of the President’s father, Joe Kennedy’s almost total control of his son’s behavior and political development throughout his career. One comment about the book that stuck out to me was that of the LA Times: “The John Kennedy who emerges from these pages was not a man of good moral character. He was reared not to be good but to win.” That alone made the book a promising read – because it didn’t celebrate the iconic President as a hagiography paying mythical homage to him, nor did it vilify him for some cheap political end. The tone of the book seemed more sorrowful than angry. The body of the book explored the question of how we ought to judge the relationship between personal character and national leadership – a lesson larger than a mere collection of anecdotes about a man who left our world fifty years ago.

In the end, we are left with the conclusion that in an age of controlled messages, very bad men can be made over to look like good ones – something we have learned over and over. We admit there is a flawed system to offer us a window into the real men and women behind the leadership images that are projected to us. We have to learn to recognize that what we see is a carefully tailored, produced and edited form of our leaders. Just like the ad agency airbrushing and manipulation of the models we see in print ads that make young ladies wish for the impossible, so the carefully sculpted form of politicians is offered to us in a packaging that may be nothing like their actual person. A Question of Character is a subtle warning to look beyond the packaging for the real man. Two thousand years before that book, a first century author offered the same warning: Look under the hood, not only at the package. Long before image consultants and focus groups, there was already the need to examine more than the public image and presentation to determine who was right for leadership.

More than any other place in the New Testament, the so-called “Pastoral Letters” offer words of solid council on the recognition of godly leaders and the standards of character qualities that should be sought as markers in them. They are both goals for the development of leaders and bench marks for people undergoing the process of recognition. Today’s lesson exposes a “shopping list” of such character qualities in 1 Timothy 3. The principle is very simple…

Key Principle: The foundation of leadership is character development, not merely a pragmatic ability to solve problems.

We cannot just choose the guy or gal with the best current solution. Why not? The truth is, we don’t know what problems will face those who enter leadership today. Think about new leaders and what they may face:

In business: The continual printing of money with no backing will eventually give way to a currency tumble in the dollar. Everyone agrees it will happen, the only question is WHEN. When the American Dollar loses its ability to drive the world economy, what will a leader need to do to keep bread on the table of American homes? How will we as a nation function when we aren’t making and bursting false bubbles of economy, but are actually forced to have only things we can actually afford to pay for? How will that affect the other countries that we purchase goods from?

In government: What will a leader need to be able to do when the increasing complexities of moral issues assail a government that has socially programmed its citizenry to look to Washington for answers to all moral, ethical and medical issues? In an age when legislators are expected to understand everything from high tech developments to designer babies and genetic selection, how will a leader know what is necessary to make good choices for the long term?

In the home: What skills will be necessary for the parent of a child that comes home from a school that encourages him or her to explore all kinds of perversity regardless of what the parent at home believes? What will a parent need to watch for in their child’s public exposure through TV, internet, social media, classmates, etc? How will the parent that is branded as “intolerant” in the coming wave be able to keep their own children from being sucked into the system that is increasingly taking his or her powers away?

In the church: What will the leader of tomorrow’s church in America need to have to make a difference and affect others for Christ? In an environment hostile to absolutes, particularly in the area of morality, how should future leaders be trained to handle audiences that are less accepting of Biblical standards? As public etiquette changes, and people become more hooked on the idea that their public comment is equal in value to the trained and skilled around them, how will the church change?

Here is my point: We don’t know what events are around the corner. Simply preparing people to have a pragmatic solution to each situation will be short-lived and in the long term be utterly ineffective – because we don’t know the nature of the problems just past the horizon.

We live in a world technologically dominated by tablets and smart cell phones that didn’t exist a decade ago. Both the future’s problems and the resources available to answer those challenges are a mystery to us right now. How then do we prepare leaders? The answer, in short, is that we carefully train them in relation to character. We develop, sculpt and encourage traits that will be essential regardless of the problems they face. That is the essence of what Paul taught when he wrote to Timothy about leaders in 1 Timothy 3. Let’s look at it together:

1 Timothy 3:1 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires [to do]. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 [He must be] one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 [and] not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside [the church], so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

The Prerequisite of Leadership (3:1)

Paul began the whole discussion on character leadership with one prerequisite that should not be overlooked – the future leader must desire to become one. Leaders must CHOOSE that path, not be voted reluctantly into the line of fire. Paul began (3:1): “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires [to do]. The text uses pointed words. If a man “stretches out” (orego) to become an overseer (episkopeo), he is seeking a good work and his desire (epithumeo) is a positive impulse. He assured those who desired the office of overseer in relation to the church that such desires were NOT WRONG. Here is my question: “Why would they think it was a WRONG THING to desire to lead?”

I suspect there were two reasons. First, some believers have a misshapen idea of humility. They believe that self-evaluation of one’s gifts and preparation for a task that involves leading is a statement of EGO, and should not be a part of the Christian’s development. That is simply not part of the humility equation. To be humble in the sense of the New Testament, a believer needs to set his or her desires as second behind that of Jesus and His people. That is the teaching of Philippians 2. One who identifies their gifting in areas of leadership is not being egotistical, but practical. God gifts everyone in the body with some part of what is necessary to the whole.

A second reason some may object to the impulse to lead as a positive one can likely be found in a latent but close to the surface false theology about striving. Some believers act like working toward a goal is the cancellation of the Spirit. Throughout my career I have encountered Christians that seem to suggest that preparation is a lack of trust in the Spirit of God. I call them “spooky Christians”. They seem believe the Spirit is only available during meeting, not in the study preparing for the meeting. The more they prepare, the less they feel “led by the Spirit”. I can only respond this way: I want my surgeon to pray and trust God during my surgery, but I am glad he studied before he got in the room. I am thankful that he spent hours learning all the parts of the body, the pharmacology, the techniques, etc. I am looking for someone who is more than spontaneous, I desire one who is trained, disciplined and prepared for what will happen in the operating suite. I want no less in the Bible study room or the pulpit.

Preparation isn’t a sign that the Spirit cannot and will not be trusted – it is a sign that the believer will take heed to the Word’s warning to “study to show ourselves a workman approved and rightly dividing the Word of truth.” Spontaneous statements in a teaching of message can (and in my experience often DO) overshadow the real intent of delivering reliable truth statements. Let’s say it plainly: Preparation isn’t unbiblical, and desire to lead isn’t unspiritual. The leader must WANT the work before they prepare for it, and must enter the work prepared and knowledgeable about the nature of it. The seven passages where Joshua was in the scene with Moses before he became the leader is an exacting example of that idea.

The Pattern of Leadership (3:2-7)

What followed the simple statement about the desire to lead was a list of fifteen traits that have become the backbone of the character training of leadership in finer organizations of the faith. Each trait is essential, and failure to heed the warning of the need poses a specific danger to the organization. Let’s look at each of the fifteen, and then summarize the picture of character development before we go any further in our leadership discussion:

1. Above Reproach: “anepilemptos” is a term from a jar or container, and refers to one that is without handles. The notion of “unhandled” is NOT that the would be leader has never done wrong, but that he has taken the necessary steps to clean up the mess he created and not allowed that mess to follow him through his life. People who owe people are handled people. They can be pulled about by the debts they created prior to coming into the position. Do you want a President that is owned by big corporations? No. It is the same principle. To train a leader to be above reproach is to train them to clean up after themselves, fixing what they brake, and completing their commitments before moving on. Character trained leaders have to pay their debts, and keep their desk clean of old strings and loyalties that will compromise their office.

2. Husband of one wife: The phrase has been translated as a “one woman man” and rightly has an emphasis on loyalty and fidelity to marriage. If God intended marriage in the Hebrew Scriptures to be a picture of the Father’s undying love for Israel, and in the Christian Scriptures he intended it to be a reflection of Jesus’ love for His Church – there can be little doubt that God intended that picture be clear in the lives of our leaders. In both the imagery of Hosea and Ephesians the BRIDE may have been fickle, but the husband was steadfast – and that is the basis of the requirement. Let me be clear about this: Marriage wasn’t just a cultural convention that became the root of the nuclear family – it was created by God as a picture of something greater. As such, God has as many requirements on its clarity as He did on the exacting standards of the Tabernacle of Bezalel, who was copying the one in Heaven. God’s models are exact replicas, and He wants them to reflect precision.

In the first century church, as closely as I can discern the history, the issue wasn’t divorce of leaders from their wives for another woman – it was a legal form that no longer exists. One of the types of Roman “marriage” that existed in the past (though it has not made its way in modernity) was that of the “coemptio en manum” marriage – the ability for one to trade his child or slave to another in payment of a debt for a time in what was called a “pleasurable service” arrangement. That allowed a man to have a young woman in his home that offered regular conjugal and sensual fulfillments to a man who was already married. This was allowed under Roman law, and a normal convention among the wealthier families of the Roman world. Some of those men, no doubt, entered leadership in local churches. Paul made it clear they were not to have such arrangements. In the end, we learn that leaders can’t just do what is LEGAL, they have to care about what God said was RIGHT.

3. Temperate: The word can be translated “vigilant” (nephalios), but sometimes is translated “sober”. Ironically, the term may have originated from the vintner’s mixing of wine. The idea is one that is “clear headed”, not cloudy nor “frivolous”. To lead, God requires one that is able to clear the nonsense out of the discussion and see the issues clearly. Leaders have to be able to settle down and discern what is serious. Some people get attention by being an adult version of the “class clown” – but they aren’t character leaders. It is essential that leaders know how to both have a good time and laugh, and how and when to settle down and get serious about a problem. They cannot be disengaged or clouded, but must focus on the issue and be able to think wisely about it.

4. Prudent: This word prudent; sober or self-controlled (sophronos) is literally the legal term “of sound mind”, and means that character leaders make a judgment without any defect of mind. This is a careful warning: sin is rooted in deception. Those who are hung up on a “pet sin” are living a deception and are not “of sound mind”. Prudent leaders seek to curb inner desires and impulses. One writer says this means to have a “soundness and balance in judgment, not unstable; and not given to quick and superficial decisions based on immature thinking”. I like the words of the Pastoral sage Warren Wiersbe when he comments “He must have a serious attitude and be in earnest about his work. This does not mean he has no sense of humor, or that he is always solemn and somber. Rather it suggests that he knows the values of things and does not cheapen the ministry or the Gospel message by foolish behavior.”

5. Respectable: The term “respectable” is sometimes translated “of good behavior”. It is the word (kosmios) that we mentioned in our previous study about women’s dress as “modest” in 1 Timothy 2:9. The basic idea was they were not ostentatious, but desired the focus to be on Jesus and not them. We don’t have the ability to truly measure people’s intentions, but it is possible to detect a person who is consistently drawing overt attention of a room to themselves. They have inner issues that must be addressed before they are ready to lead.

6. Hospitable: The word hospitable (philoxenos) actually means “loving strangers”. Tough we are to desire a level of comfort and care from any leader, the primary function of the leader in this statement is NOT to build ever deeper relationships to the flock. This ISN’T about how often the leader “comes calling” on those who are in the flock – it is about the winsomeness of the leader to reach the “strangers” and draw them in. Some of this certainly is relational evangelism, but other parts of it include offering ministry and counsel to those on the edge. The character leader must aim at more than maintaining the group; he must expand their view to the hurting world outside by taking an active role in it. We can’t just read about hurting people and preach about them, we have to engage them.

7. Apt to teach: is sometimes translated “able to teach” or “teachable”. The term didactikos does not simply mean able, but ready with practical and spiritually powerful teaching rooted in the Word. Character leadership training must focus on the expounding of God’s truth so that a leader will be prepared with ANSWERS FROM GOD, and not just more pragmatic programming. Because of that, leaders need training time, and need to ready some parts of their teaching ahead of the experience of leadership. Further, they need to teach each page already knowing what happens on the next already. They are not always leading by discovering. To be sure, they continue to grow in the journey, but they have done much work to become ready before they begin the process of leading others spiritually.

8. Not addicted to wine: Grammatically, the next few words of the text seem to be LINKED to this one. “Not addicted to wine” or “not given to much wine”: is actually all one Greek term – paroinos translated literally “beside wine”. Greek records indicate that Aristotle used the word to mean “tipsy; lingering with his wine”. The issue was that wine was regularly consumed by Romans, but some over-indulged and hung out beside the wine bar the way some office workers hang out in the break room or at the water cooler. They dull their minds and allow disciplines to slip away, and what follows is TROUBLE. The words that express trouble are the next few character traits that seem to be related to their over-indulgence.

9. Not pugnacious: The character leader must distance themselves from the wine bar and not allow themselves to become argumentative or hostile because of wine or lack of some self-control issues. They cannot push off study time for incessant Facebook voyeurism, allowing themselves to become angry and overwhelmed with inflammatory writing and issue barrages. Someone who is pugnacious “carries a chip on his shoulder and is quick to get into a fight”. A character trained leader seeks to be a peacemaker instead of a troublemaker – to speak truth, but find a loving way to do so. It isn’t as easy as it sounds, so it takes training.

10. Gentle: This term in English isn’t the best way to think of what the author has in mind, in my view. The term epieikḗs is an adjective, derived from epí ” fitting” and eikos “equitable, fair”. One commentator suggests it is the idea of “true equity that appropriately fulfills the spirit (not just the letter) of the law”. The term isn’t WIMPY, but rather PRINCIPLED and REASONABLE. As we pass through the Scriptures together, lesson by lesson, the principles are deep and sometimes require time to search and apply. That is what a character must do, first in HIS LIFE, then in his teaching.

11. Peaceable: This is a great term! The word is amachos, or literally NOT MACHO. By that, we aren’t saying the character leader is indecisive or a “push over”, but simply that his impulses and ego are in check such that he will not answer with brawling of violence. This term also used in Titus 1:7 and appears to be linked to the wine issue above grammatically as well.

The point is that some leaders lingered over their wine and let their flesh take control of their decision making processes. Nadab and Abihu got tipsy and took the fire into the holy place from a strange place, displeasing God and bringing death and condemnation on themselves. In 1 Timothy, Paul warns of a more subtle result – an argumentative, unreasonable and ego-filled response that can follow in the footsteps of an undisciplined lifestyle.

12. Free from the love of money: The quality of self-control in material things is an issue of contentment. The phrase “free of the love of money” (also translated “not guilty of filthy lucre”) literally means not covetous: not a lover of money (one compound word in the Greek- aphilargyros). The idea of money love is broader than just the love of the bills or the silver, but the love of things material. For some leaders, they seem to get their esteem from new buildings or new parts and pieces of ministry. They cannot help but “take pride” in buildings, budgets and number of bodies. The truth is these are manifestations of the same spirit of love of things physical in places spiritual. Character leaders must measure success by obedience and growth by God’s delight, not simply take out a physical yard stick and start feeling more worth based on outward increase. We serve the Lord, and He alone knows our value.

13. Manages his house well: The idea of proistémi is that a character leader learns to take responsibility for what God puts in his care. He doesn’t pass off his problems or overlook them, but addresses each one. That doesn’t imply that he doesn’t face the same problems as anyone else. Budgeting will be as necessary in his home as any other, and the invasion of ungodly belief systems will attack his children as much as any other. The issue isn’t that what attacks is different, but that he handles it differently. The term pro-istemi is to “take charge over”, to be assertive and not ambivalent in the face of challenges. Every character trained leader will find it hard to both live the truth and reflect that truth throughout their home. They will want to entertain the stranger, but that has the potential to open the home to unsavory visitors. They will want to study hard, but that will bring the danger of being too distant and removed from the daily goings-on in the home. This is a balancing act at times, because that is what stewardship truly is.

14. Not a neophyte: The terms “not a new convert, or not a novice (neophyte, new planted) are used in a restrictive sense. Those new to Jesus are not to have the yoke of leadership placed upon them. The idea is that one that is new has not learned the longer lessons of stewardship. All plants look green when first planted, but managing the watering, the soil and the sun steward the plant to long term heath. New converts aren’t ready because they don’t see the maturing process yet. They can feel a sense of deserving and entitlement that is not real (3:6) and the Devil will surely use this.

15. Good reputation to those outside: The phrase translated “good reputation with those outside the church” is NOT “well-liked by the world” but rather those who are well thought of in places where the societal values match the Word of God. They pay their bills on time. They keep appointments. They act responsibly in public. The term MARTURIA is the Word “reputation”, and refers to the public’s view of their steadfastness and reliability in what they SAY they believe. The world will forgive imperfection far faster than hypocrisy.

When a congregation refuses to remove leaders who have Biblically disqualified themselves or does not hold to the high standards of the ingredients of this passage the result will be that they will undermine the moral and spiritual vitality of the whole congregation, as well as destroy the congregation’s influence in the community. It is fine to have the world stand against their leaders in areas where the world conflicts in values to the truth of the Word, but not in the etiquette and responsibility areas that are not conflicting with Scripture.

The Product of Leadership

Step back from these verses and you will see the pattern begin to define the CHARACTER TRAINING, but say precious little about the JOB DECSRIPTION of the leader. We need people who are able to apply the guidelines to the ever-changing work of leadership.

They can’t be in anyone’s pocket. They need to be loyal people who understand boundaries and live inside of the one’s established by God. They need to know what is serious and be able to focus on the right issues at the right time. They need to be orderly, not haphazard about their lives. They need to have many hours of hard work in the Word before they take the office of leadership. They need to have regular connection to those outside the circle of the faith and be developing relationships beyond the group they lead. They need to reign in physical disciplines and keep emotions and ego in check. They need to be secure in what God has given them, and not in love with external measures of wealth or success. They need to steward their lives and families well. They need to be seasoned with time, and reputable.

• If a leader has a contentious spirit, his followers will become bitter and fight oriented.
• If a leader is cold and removed, his followers will become unfriendly and uncaring.
• If a leader loves money and stuff, his followers will become worshippers of pleasures physical.
• If a leader does not act sensibly, balanced, and self-controlled, followers will become bewildered at the extremity and imbalance, and they will attract the strange and repel the normal.
• If a leader is not faithful to their spouse, they will be unfaithful to the Lord that called them.
• If a leader does not cling to the Word of God in their own walk, their followers will not treasure the Word.

The foundation of leadership is character development, not merely a pragmatic ability to solve problems.

If there is any single misunderstanding I have observed in my years of ministry, it is the stark difference between the call of leaders in the world and that of the Kingdom of God. I love that Chuck Colson years ago left these prophetic words:

Nothing distinguished the kingdoms of man from the kingdom of God more than their diametrically opposed views of the exercise of power. One seeks to control people, the other to serve people; one promotes self, the other prostrates self; one seeks prestige and position; the other lifts up the lowly and the despised…Power is like saltwater. The more you drink, the thirstier you get. The lure of power can separate the most resolute of Christians from the true nature of Christian leadership, which is service to others. It’s difficult to stand on a pedestal and wash the feet of those below.”

God called godly leaders to learn character, and to show it in serving others. They are to do, and then do it again and again and again. They are to be careful to do it His way. They are to lead by serving a great and marvelous God with their every effort. May we train such for the future of His great work until the trumpet sounds!