The Elder’s Character
“An overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (v. 7).- Titus 1:7–8
In his letter to Titus, Paul often focuses on good works and exemplary behavior along with a concern for the opinion of outsiders. The apostle makes this plain in 2:1–10 when he discusses the behavior of ordained and lay Christians alike. But his concern for such things is also clear in his listing of qualifications for the office of elder in 1:5–9. The qualities Paul lists here are largely identical to those given in 1 Timothy 3:1–7. As in his letter to Timothy, the character traits Paul identifies in Titus are outwardly visible and were prized in the culture of his day. In addition to being in accord with godliness, these behaviors would commend the church to the world and enable the elders to gain a hearing in the wider society. Even in this day of lawlessness, non-Christians still esteem such righteous deeds, which help demonstrate the new life that the gospel brings.
Our emphasis today will be on those characteristics for eldership we passed over when we studied 1 Timothy 3:1–7. First we see that an overseer or elder should not be a “drunkard” (Titus 1:7). Alcoholism was a problem on Crete, and those who do not live sober lives are not permitted to lead God’s people. This is not a prohibition against drinking alcohol, only its abuse (Prov. 23:20–21). A potential elder will not be an addict, for if he cannot control himself, he cannot lovingly guide the flock of God. A church leader, Matthew Henry writes, must “have power over his appetite and affections.”
Evidence of self-control, one of the fruits of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23), is a broad heading under which many of the elder’s requirements fall. In this category we may include the prohibition of greedy teachers (Titus 1:7). Christian leaders are permitted, even encouraged, to seek their living from the gospel ministry, but they are never allowed to view the gospel solely as a means for financial gain (1 Tim. 5:17–18; 6:2b–5). Modern evangelists who enrich themselves by making false promises are examples of men who never should have been ordained.
Above all, Titus 1:5–9 says an elder must be a lover of good, one who thinks on and practices that which is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and praiseworthy (Phil. 4:8). May this be true of all of us as well.
The vices Paul mentions in today’s passage are obviously prohibited for any Christian. One of the most difficult to overcome is self-indulgence, for our culture does little to encourage self-control. Do you bear this fruit of the Spirit in your life? There is grace for those times when we are not self-controlled, and there is renewal through repentance, but the evidence of it is seen in the endeavor to control one’s passions by the help of God’s Spirit.
Passages for Further Study