A Call to Older Men

1 But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine. Older men are to be sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness. – Titus 2:1-2 ESV

Paul has spent a significant portion of his letter warning Titus about the dangers of those who were promoting their man-made doctrines among the churches on Crete. These individuals were blatantly adding to the simplicity of the gospel message and contradicting the teaching of Paul and the other apostles of Jesus Christ. And one of the reasons these false teachers were making an impact was because of the spiritual immaturity of the congregations. As Paul concluded a few verses earlier in his letter, the believers on Crete were not sound in the faith.

So, Paul turns his attention to Titus, tasking his with the job of teaching “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1 ESV). Notice that Paul is not asking Titus to teach sound doctrine. He seems to know that Titus has been faithful to promote what is in keeping with the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. But what Paul wants Timothy to do is to teach what “accords with” sound teaching. The Greek word Paul used carries the idea of reflecting or demonstrating. In other words, Paul is asking Titus to teach the Cretan believers what Christ-like behavior looks like. He wants Titus to make it clear to these people what true doctrine looks like when it’s lived out on a daily basis. 

This is in direct response to the false teaching that had begun to infect and influence the church. They were promoting everything from license to legalism. Some were demanding that any and all behavior was acceptable because they believed the spiritual and the physical were two completely separate realms. These individuals taught that what we do in our flesh makes no difference. As you can only imagine, this false doctrine would lead to some abhorrent behavior that was in direct contradiction to the Word of God.

These people were often referred to as antinomians, which literally means “anti-law.” They took the teachings of Paul regarding our freedom from the Mosaic Law and turned them into permission to practice moral license. But Paul addressed this misconception in his first letter to the believers in Corinth.

You say, “I am allowed to do anything”—but not everything is good for you. And even though “I am allowed to do anything,” I must not become a slave to anything. You say, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food.” (This is true, though someday God will do away with both of them.) But you can’t say that our bodies were made for sexual immorality. They were made for the Lord, and the Lord cares about our bodies. – 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 NLT

But right alongside the antinomians came the legalists, the party of the circumcision, who were teaching that strict adherence to the Mosaic Law was mandatory for any and all professing believers, whether they were Jews or Gentiles. These people taught a strict code based on abstinence and adherence. Paul addressed this false teaching to the Colossian church.

“Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires. – Colossians 2:21-23 NLT

So, with these two diametrically opposed brands of false teaching bombarding the local churches on Crete, Paul commanded Titus to provide the people with clear instructions on what proper Christian behavior should look like. And what should stand out to us is the simple, practical nature of Paul’s examples.

Paul begins with the mature males in the church, using the Greek word, presbytēs. It was a common word typically used to refer to someone who was more advanced in years. They were not necessarily elderly, but simply older. For Paul, these men were essential to the overall health of the church. And he states that they were to be “sober-minded, dignified, self-controlled, sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 1:2 ESV). Each of these terms is packed with meaning, and they are not to be taken lightly.

The first descriptor Paul uses is nēphalios, which is translated as “sober-minded.” Some translations use the word “temperate” which is probably much closer to the original meaning. The original Greek word meant “abstaining from wine, either entirely or at least from its immoderate use.” And this meaning seems to fit the context. In the very next verse, Paul states that the older women were not to be “slaves to much wine.” It would seem that over-indulgence had become a problem in the churches on Crete. License had led some to drink wine to access. Any belief in moderation had been abandoned for the pursuit of personal pleasure. But in his letter to the believers in Galatia, Paul listed drunkenness among the works of the flesh and temperance among the fruit of the Spirit.

The second attribute or characteristic Paul requires of all older men in the body of Christ was semnos, which conveys the idea of being venerated for their character. They were to be looked up to for the way they lived their lives. These men were to be examples to the rest of the congregation, emulating the character of Christ and leading the younger men in the church to aspire to follow their example. It could have been that these older, more mature believers were setting the wrong example, having chosen to follow the teaching of the antinomians. Perhaps they were leading the way in licentious behavior and causing their younger brothers and sisters in Christ to stumble. But Paul demands that their behavior be Christ-like in every way.

Next, Paul emphasizes their need to be self-controlled. That particular translation of the Greek word sōphrōn is somewhat misleading. It seems to convey the idea that this character quality is completely up to the individual to pull off. But we know that Paul firmly believed in the role of the Holy Spirit in assisting us in our pursuit of Christ-like behavior. In fact, he told the believers in Galatia: “the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NLT). Paul clearly taught that self-control was only possible when one was under the Spirit’s control. 

…let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. – Galatians 5:16 NLT

The Greek word has to do with curbing one’s desires and impulses. It is the mark of someone who is not controlled by his emotions, physical appetites, or sinful desires. And it listed in the qualities required of an elder found in chapter 1.

These are all characteristics that should accompany physical maturity. But Paul doesn’t stop there. He adds a few more qualities that should reflect spiritual maturity or godliness. He states that these older men should be “sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness” (Titus 2:2 ESV). The Greek word that is translated as “sound” has to do with wholeness or completeness. It was often used to refer to a person being sound of body or in good health. Paul is insisting that older Christian men should be whole or healthy when it comes to their faith in God and His gospel message, their love for God and His children, and their patient endurance as they wait for His Son’s return.

Paul held these older men to a higher standard and, more than likely, he included himself as one of them. He worked hard to ensure that his life was an example to the younger men in his life, including Titus and Timothy. Paul was able to say to the believers in Corinth, “you should imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “pattern your lives after mine, and learn from those who follow our example” (Philippians 3:17 NLT). He went on to tell them, “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things” (Philippians 4:9 ESV).

Paul was demanding of these men what he demanded of himself. But this was not some form of legalism or license. He was not promoting another form of rule-keeping or behavior modification. For Paul, this was all about living out his faith in everyday life. It was to permeate every area of his life. His belief was to result in changed behavior. And he knew that this was true of each and every person who professed to be a follower of Christ.

The reason older men are singled out first is that they were the pool from which the elders of the church were to come. The Greek word used for older men is presbytēs and the word for elder is presbyteros. Paul had charged Titus with the task of finding and appointing elders in all the churches on Crete. But where was he going to find such individuals if there were no older men who met the standards? The truth is, the church should never be in short supply of elders, because it is filled with older men whose lives reflect the characteristics of an elder. Godly leadership should be readily available and easily accessible because the older men of the church are sound in faith, in love, and in steadfastness.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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Not Up For Debate

10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party.11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work. – Titus 1:10-16 ESV

Verses 5-9 give Titus the what behind his job description. He is supposed to complete any unfinished business regarding the churches on Crete, and he was to select and appoint elders to help oversee each congregation. Now, in verses 10-16, Paul provides him with the why. The gospel was spreading on Crete, and the churches were increasing in number and size. The expansion of the ministry had brought in more people, but also a range of problems. Success has a way of attracting attention, and because the number of converts to Christianity was increasing, this new religion was gaining interest among those who had less-than-godly motives.

One of the reasons behind Paul’s instructions that Titus appoint qualified men to serve as elders over the churches was the presence of some bad influences within the local congregations. Paul gives the impression that this was not a case of a few bad apples, but a whole barrel-full. And his description of these people is far from flattering. He describes them as insubordinate, empty talkers, and deceivers. Their lives were characterized by a refusal to submit to authority. The Greek word Paul used is anypotaktos, and it can literally be translated as “not subject to.” These people answered to no one but themselves. So, Titus was going to need a group of elders who could assist him in stemming the negative influence of these individuals, because they were empty talkers. Here Paul uses a Greek word that is actually a contraction of two other words: mataiologos. The first half refers to vanity or something that lacks truth or purpose. Therefore, it has no beneficial value. The second half of the word refers to speech and, when you combine the two you get the idea of useless words that have no basis in truth and no lasting benefit. In fact, Paul describes their words as deceptive. He uses the Greek word phrenapatēs, which is a contraction of two other words and literally means “mind-misleader.” 

These people were what Paul would describe as false teachers. They were men and women who had brought their own agendas into the church and were propagating ideas that were not in line with the teaching of the apostles. Their “empty talk” was likely a toxic cocktail that attempted to blend pagan ideas and their own personal perspectives with the gospel message. And Paul specifically points out “those of the circumcision party” – the Jewish converts to Christianity who were demanding that all Gentile converts submit to the rite of circumcision and agree to keep the Mosaic Law in order to be considered truly saved. 

These people were guilty of the very same thing Jesus accused the Jewish religious leaders of in His day.

“These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.” – Matthew 15:8-9 NLT

Paul had been forced to confront the same problem among the Colossian believers, and he warned them:

Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. – Colossians 2:8 NLT

Paul had gone on to tell the believers in Colossae that these man-made rules and requirements had no lasting value. They were simply a listing of dos and don’ts that were based on mere whim and not the word of God.

…why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. – Colossians 2:20-22 NLT

And Paul tells Titus that these kinds of people need to be silenced. Their false ideas were not to be tolerated and, most certainly, were not to be amalgamated into the doctrine of the church. That is why Paul insisted that any elder candidate must “have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught; then he will be able to encourage others with wholesome teaching and show those who oppose it where they are wrong” (Titus 1:9 NLT). It is difficult to confront falsehood if you don’t know the truth. You will find it hard to correct others if you have no clue as to what they are saying or doing wrong. 

But pointing out the error behind false teaching is one of the key roles of an elder. Which is why it essential that an elder be one who is steeped in the Word of God and “who correctly explains the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15 NLT). Otherwise, falsehood will spread throughout the church unrecognized and unabated. So, Paul warns Timothy: “They must be silenced, because they are turning whole families away from the truth by their false teaching” (Titus 1:11 NLT). False teaching has real consequences. It is dangerous and deadly because it leads people away from the truth of the gospel. In the case of the party of the circumcision, they were adding to the gospel, demanding that rule-keeping was a necessary part of salvation. In their minds, salvation was no longer a free gift from available through the grace of God. It was based on a set of rules determined by men. And Paul would have nothing to do with it.

And the worst part of the whole affair is that the individuals spreading these lies were not doing it for the good of the church, but for their own selfish gain. They were in it for what they could get out of it, and that most likely included power, prestige, influence, and, possibly, financial gain. These people saw themselves as on an equal plain with that of Paul and the other apostles. They deemed themselves to be spokesmen for God, but they had not been sent by God. And there were not teaching the truth of God.

Quoting a well-known Cretan poet, who described his own people as “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Titus 1:12 ESV), Paul seems to be saying that the people of Crete were prone to being deceived. They were buying what these false teachers were selling, which is why Paul tells Titus to “rebuke them sharply.” This was serious business, and there was no room for diplomacy or political correctness. And Titus was to concern himself with the strengthening of the faith of any who had been misled by the teaching of these individuals. He was to call them back to the truth of the gospel message as expressed by Jesus and His disciples. And by promoting the truth, Titus would help the believers in Crete to stop “devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 ESV).

One of the primary errors Paul and Titus were having to expose was asceticism. This was teaching that promoted the abstaining from certain foods or activities. It was a works-based mentality that equated spirituality with self-denial. But Paul wanted Titus to remember that to the pure all things are pure. In other words, a Christian’s righteousness is not based on his or her activities or abstentions from certain actions, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ. While our behavior is important, it is not what makes us right with God. As Isaiah so clearly stated, “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6 ESV).

Paul was echoing the words of Jesus, who taught His disciples, “Don’t you understand yet? Anything you eat passes through the stomach and then goes into the sewer. But the words you speak come from the heart—that’s what defiles you. For from the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, all sexual immorality, theft, lying, and slander. These are what defile you. Eating with unwashed hands will never defile you” (Matthew 15:16-20 NLT).

This is what Titus was to reaffirm to the believers on Crete, because the false teachers were confusing the matter. They were teaching that was made impure from outside influences. Therefore, abstinence was the key to spirituality. But Paul wanted Titus to drive home the gospel message that true spirituality begins on the inside, in the heart, as the Spirit of God takes up residence in the believer and transforms him from the inside out.

And just in case Titus has missed his point in all of this, Paul makes it painfully clear, declaring that the false teachers on Crete “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work” (Titus 1:15 ESV). He leaves no doubt as to his opinion of these people. And he gives Titus no room for negotiation with them. They are unfit for any good work. And Titus, with the help of the elders he would eventually appoint, was expected to deal with these people quickly and effectively, for the sake of the body of Christ on Crete.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.s

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG) Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Destruction From Within.

1 “And to the angel of the church in Sardis write: ‘The words of him who has the seven spirits of God and the seven stars.

“‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy. The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’  Revelation 3:1-6 ESV

revelation_Turkey_mapIn opening His address to the church in Sardis, Jesus once again uses imagery provided in chapter one to describe Himself. This time, He mentions the seven spirits of God and the seven stars as being His possessions. If you recall, in Revelation 1:4, John described seeing the seven spirits before the throne of God. And in verse 16 of that same chapter, John described seeing Jesus holding seven stars in his right hand. The seven spirits of God is thought to be a reference to the Spirit of God. Throughout the Scriptures, the number seven is symbolic of perfection or completeness. By referring to the Spirit as being seven in number, it is a way of describing His perfection. He is lacking in nothing. And Jesus addresses the church in Sardis, assuring them that He comes to them with the Spirit of God. And this is important, because the indictment that Jesus levels against the congregation there has to do with their spiritual apathy. They are dead. But it is the Spirit who brings life. The Spirit regenerates non-believers, providing them with new life. Paul told his young protegé, Titus: “he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7 EASV). The Holy Spirit brings new life. And yet, as Jesus will accuse the church in Sardis, “You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead” (Revelation 3:1 ESV). It would seem that Jesus is saying that some within the fellowship there had never really been renewed or regenerated. They remained in their former dead spiritual state. During His earthly ministry, Jesus had clearly equated new life with belief, telling those who followed Him:

“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” – John 6:63-64 ESV

By bringing the Holy Spirit with Him, it is as if Jesus is offering the unbelieving, spiritually dead members of the church in Sardis with an opportunity to experience new life through the power of the Spirit. It is important to note that Jesus describes the congregation as a whole as being dead. They were ineffective and incapable of doing what they were supposed to be doing. Their works were incomplete. They had a reputation for being alive, but were really lifeless. Nothing can rob the life out of a local congregation than the presence of unbelievers masquerading as believers. That is why Jesus demands that the church wake up and strengthen what remains. They were to recall the message they had received in the beginning, the gospel message of new life made possible through faith in Christ. They had walked away from the basic truths of the gospel message and allowed spiritual compromise and moral complacency to infiltrate their fellowship. And by describing Himself as having the seven stars in His hands, Jesus is reminding the spiritual leaders of the church at Sardis that they belong to Him. They answer to Him. He is their authority and they are responsible to the flock He has placed under their care. Peter has a similar warning to elders in his first letter:

shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 ESV

Poor leadership in a local church can result in spiritual apathy and provide an atmosphere in which falsehood can thrive. Unbelievers can easily find access into the fellowship, bringing their false understandings of what it means to be saved. They can practice the outward signs of religion, creating a church that appears spiritual, all the while missing the very thing they need to be truly alive and empowered by the Spirit of God. The apostle Paul warned the elders from the church at Ephesus:

28 “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders. 29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you. – Acts 20:28-31 NLT

Paul told them to remember. He wanted them to recall the time, energy and effort he had poured into making them a healthy and vibrant fellowship. And Jesus tells the leadership at Sardis to remember as well, and He warns them to repent. They need to wake up and recognize the problem in their fellowship. If they don’t, Jesus warns, He will come like a thief in the night. When they least expected it, He would bring judgment against them. Jesus takes seriously the spiritual well-being of His bride, the church. He will hold the leadership of His church responsible for how they care for and protect those for whom He died. Sadly, Jesus indicates that there are only a few in Sardis who had not “soiled their garments” (Revelation 3:4 ESV). That means that the majority of those who claimed to be members of the local fellowship in Sardis had soiled their garments – they were stained by immorality and sin. In comparison, a faithful few had remained pure, and Jesus promises that they will one day walk with Him in His Kingdom wearing the white robes of sinless perfection. John will later describe seeing these very people standing before the throne of God in heaven.

After this I saw a vast crowd, too great to count, from every nation and tribe and people and language, standing in front of the throne and before the Lamb. They were clothed in white robes and held palm branches in their hands. – Revelation 7:9 ESV

And Jesus promises those who overcome, who maintain their spiritual integrity and faithful commitment to their calling, that He will reward them.

The one who conquers will be clothed thus in white garments, and I will never blot his name out of the book of life. I will confess his name before my Father and before his angels. – Revelation 3:5 ESV

Jesus is not demanding sinless perfection in this life. He is not saying that only those who remain sin-free on earth will enjoy the reward of eternal life. The one who conquers is a reference to the those who truly belong to Christ. They are conquerors because He has already conquered. Jesus defeated sin and death on the cross. And those who place their faith in Him are already victorious. Their salvation is secure and their eternal state, already prepared for them. As followers of Christ, they pursue holiness in this life, in the power of the Holy Spirit. They seek to live righteously, refusing to pursue the old sinful habits of the past. The apostle Paul put it this way, “anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!” (2 Corinthians 5:17 NLT).

The church in Sardis had a reputation for being alive, but Jesus knew the truth. He could see the spiritual apathy and the debilitating influence of those who claimed to be followers of Christ, but who were really non-believers. Their presence was destroying the church from within. The church’s leadership had been asleep at the wheel and had allowed the enemy to infiltrate their ranks and begin to destroy the church from within. It is interesting to note that the city of Sardis, which sat on a high hill, had been thought to be impregnable to attack. But there was a hidden pathway that led to a secret entrance into the walls of the city. And about 548 B.C., Cyrus the Persian captured Sardis by using this hidden pathway to breech the city’s walls. The same thing happened again in 218 B.C., when the city was taken by Antiochus. One of the greatest dangers to any church is a spirit of complacency and over-confidence. When the leadership of a church no longer recognizes the reality of spiritual warfare and the need to protect the flock of God at all costs, the enemy takes advantage of their apathy and brings destruction from within.

So, as He has done before, Jesus warns every one who has ears to hear what He is saying to the churches. His wake-up call to Sardis applies to each and every church in every age. As Paul said, “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us” (Romans 8:37 ESV), but if we fail to remain faithful and committed to His cause, we can find ourselves becoming the conquered. While Jesus promised that all the powers of hell would not prevail against His church (Matthew 16:18), Satan is still going to do everything in his power to destroy the church. The victory has been won, but the battle is real. And we must remain awake and alert.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Leadership.

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship. Acts 20:28-38 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

Paul had stopped in Miletus on his way to Jerusalem and, while there, he had invited the elders for the congregation in Ephesus to come visit him, so that he could impart some words of encouragement to them. Paul was well aware that he might never get to see these men again, and wanted to challenge them to take seriously their role as the spiritual shepherds of the flock over which God had placed them. Paul used his own life as an example of selfless service, declaring “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27 ESV). He was confident and content with his efforts on their behalf, having served “the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials” (Acts 20:19 ESV). Now, he was passing the baton on to them, and challenging them to “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). Notice that he began with a warning for these men to pay careful attention to themselves. Their personal lives were to be closely monitored and the state of their own spiritual health was to be constantly assessed. In one of his letters to his young protegé, Timothy, Paul described the qualifications for an elder.

So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

These men had a grave responsibility, and they would one day answer to God for the manner in which they cared for His sheep. They needed to see themselves as overseers, or guardians over those under their care. The Greek word Luke used is episkopos, and carries the idea of someone who cares for and watches over the well-being of others. But Paul knew that it would be difficult for them to properly provide for and protect those under their care if they themselves were not adequately fit for duty. Spiritually deficient leaders will always result in spiritually anemic followers. Men who were unfaithful to their own wives, lacking in self-control, unable to manage their own households, quick-tempered, quarrelsome, greedy, and unable to teach the Word of God, would make lousy shepherds and do more harm than good to the flock of God. And Paul made it clear why they had to be spiritually prepared and properly equipped for their roles as shepherds.

29 I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. 30 Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. 31 Watch out! – Acts 20:29-31 NLT

The dangers were real. Paul would have fully concurred with the statement made by Peter: “Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8 NLT). For Paul, the thought of false teachers slyly infiltrating the ranks of God’s people and leading them astray with clever-sounding words, was more than he could stand. The subtle, yet sinister reality of false doctrine was going to be a constant threat to the spiritual well-being of the church. It remains so today. Half-truths and watered-down doctrine are always more dangerous than outright lies. Frontal assaults, while always a possibility in spiritual warfare, are rare. The enemy tends to inflict his damage in more subtle and deceptive ways. But elders must understand that distortion of the truth can be just as dangerous and deadly as the denial of it. But to be able to recognize the lies of the enemy, God’s leaders must know the truth of His Word. That is why Paul told Timothy:

16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right. 17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work. – 2 Timothy 3:16-17 NLT

Those who remain ignorant of God’s Word will be unable to live or lead well. They will find themselves living like “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14 NIV). Leaders can be appointed, but their ability to lead is God-given and a byproduct of their time in the Word and the degree of their dependence upon God. Which is why Paul stated, “I entrust you to God and the message of his grace that is able to build you up and give you an inheritance with all those he has set apart for himself” (Acts 20:32 NLT). Their capacity to lead was going to be directly tied to their reliance upon God. They would need to daily lean on the grace of God and recognize that He alone could provide them with the strength and wisdom required for their role as shepherds of His flock.

Paul closes out his discourse with these men by using himself as an example. He was not speaking pridefully, but was confident that his own life could be used as a model for godly leadership.Paul had never been in it for the glory. He didn’t serve for any kind of recognition or financial remuneration. He plainly states:

33 “I have never coveted anyone’s silver or gold or fine clothes. 34 You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. 35 And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. – Acts 20:33-35 NLT

And Paul’s life fully reflected the teaching of Peter concerning godly leadership.

Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:2-4 NLT

Godly leadership is not about power, position, or prominence. It has little to do with matters of superiority or control. Being a leader in the context of the church of God is all about service, not authority and power. In fact, Jesus provided His disciples with some fairly stunning words about this very matter. He spoke them immediately after James and John had made their rather arrogant and self-centered request to be given positions of power when Jesus established His Kingdom. Jesus simply said:

25 “You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. 26 But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. 28 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Matthew 20:25-28 NLT

And Paul added his own little twist, reminding the elders in his audience of some other words spoken by Jesus: “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35 NLT). Paul was expecting these men to lead like Jesus. He wanted them to lead by putting themselves last and others first. They were to lead by selflessly sacrificing their lives for the sake of the flock. All of this recalls the words of Jesus, spoken to the apostle Peter in the days immediately after His resurrection. Three times Jesus questioned Peter’s love for Him. And three times Peter assured Jesus of his love. And each of those times, Jesus responded with three simple, yet profound statements.

“Then feed my lambs.” – John 21:15 NLT

“Then take care of my sheep.” – John 21:16 NLT

“Then feed my sheep.” – John 21:17 NLT

The greatest way a leader can prove his love for Jesus is to love those for whom Jesus died and for whom the leader has been called to serve.

When Paul had finished his meeting with the elders, they prayed together, then parted ways. There were many tears and much sorrow because, of all the things Paul had said to them, the one thing that had stood out the most was his announcement that he might never see them again. It is obvious that they loved Paul dearly. They clearly saw him as a loving and godly leader. He had been for them what he was asking them to be for those under their care: A selfless, sacrificial shepherd who had always been willing to lay down his life for the sheep. Now, they were to return to Ephesus and do the same.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

The Incredible Non-Shrinking Man.

13 But going ahead to the ship, we set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul aboard there, for so he had arranged, intending himself to go by land. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. 15 And sailing from there we came the following day opposite Chios; the next day we touched at Samos; and the day after that we went to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia, for he was hastening to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost.

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:

“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Acts 20:13-27 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

After having miraculously raised Eutychus back to life, Paul and his traveling companions left Troas. Luke indicates that he, Timothy and the other six men who were accompanying Paul back to Jerusalem, took a ship from Troas and headed for Assos, while Paul determined to go by land. Traveling by ship required that you sail around Cape Lectum, which added considerable time to the journey. It was only 20 miles by land from Troas to Assos, so Paul’s decision to take the overland route allowed him to extend his stay in Troas. But eventually, he and the others met up in Assos, where he joined them aboard their ship and continued the journey, arriving some days later in Miletus. For whatever reason, Paul made the determination to sail past Ephesus, perhaps worrying that it would present too lengthy of a delay in his travel plans and prevent him from reaching Jerusalem in time for the Feast of Pentecost.

Paul still had a concern for the well-being of the church in Ephesus, so he came up with an alternative plan, sending for the elders of the church and inviting them to join him in Miletus. It had been in Ephesus that the gospel had made a huge impact, transforming the lives of many who once worshiped false gods and dabbled in the occult. Luke records:

19 A number of them who had been practicing sorcery brought their incantation books and burned them at a public bonfire. The value of the books was several million dollars. 20 So the message about the Lord spread widely and had a powerful effect. – Acts 19:19-20 NLT

These changes had not set well with all those living in Ephesus. The local tradesmen, who made their living selling statues of the god, Artemis, had whipped the people into a frenzy, inciting a riot and causing “no little disturbance concerning the Way” (Acts 19:23 ESV). The situation for the believers in Ephesus had become intense and potentially dangerous. So, Paul had invited the elders to come and meet with him so that he might encourage them. But Paul used an interesting tactic to accomplish his goal. He most likely knew that those in Ephesus might have viewed his leaving of them as a form of abandonment. Just when things had gotten hot, he had bailed on them. So, Paul reminded the elders that he had spent a great deal of time in Ephesus, ministering to them, even in the face of the hostile threats of the Jews, who opposed his teaching.

19 I have done the Lord’s work humbly and with many tears. I have endured the trials that came to me from the plots of the Jews. 20 I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. – Acts 20:19-20 NLT

It’s important to remember that, at this point in his ministry, Paul had already been stoned and left for dead. He had faced tremendous opposition and intense hatred. But he had refused to shrink back. Even in the face of adversity, Paul had stood his ground and remained faithful to his calling by Jesus.

21 I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus. – Acts 20:21 NLT

That had been Paul’s persistent passion and he had pursued it with an unwavering commitment. And his departure from them had not been driven by fear or self-preservation, but by the Spirit of God. He was convinced that Jerusalem was the next stop on his itinerary, and he was going there, even though he had no idea what awaited him when he arrived. He knew that the Judaizers, those Jewish Christians who had been demanding that all Gentiles be circumcised and adhere to the Mosaic Law, would be there. He was well aware that they would still be questioning his ministry and accusing him of violating both the law and the religious heritage they held so sacred. Paul informed these men that “the Holy Spirit tells me in city after city that jail and suffering lie ahead” (Acts 20:23 NLT). If you recall, when Jesus had instructed Ananias to go to Paul, then known as Saul, and minister to him immediately after his conversion, He had said:

15 “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. 16 And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake.” – Acts 9:15-16 NLT

Paul was well aware that his ministry was to include suffering. He had experienced it. And he knew that every trip he took could be his last. He had been an eye-witness to the stoning death of Stephen. He had been stoned himself. And, on more than one occasion, he had been forced to flee for his life, sneaking out of a city in the dark of night, like a common criminal. And in the very next chapter, we will see Paul receive numerous warnings from others, prompted by the Holy Spirit. When he met with the disciples in Tyre, Luke records that “through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem” (Acts 21:4 ESV). While in Caesarea, a prophet from Judea named Agabus, came to visit Paul and warn him. Luke writes that he “took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, ‘Thus says the Holy Spirit, “This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles”’” (Acts 21:11 NLT). The disciples who witnessed this event begged Paul not to go to Jerusalem, but he responded: “I am ready not only to be jailed at Jerusalem but even to die for the sake of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 21:13 NLT).

Paul told the elders from Ephesus, “my life is worth nothing to me unless I use it for finishing the work assigned me by the Lord Jesus—the work of telling others the Good News about the wonderful grace of God” (Acts 20:24 NLT). Paul was more than willing to suffer for the cause of Christ, and he already had. He was also willing to die, if necessary. He would later write to the believers in Philippi:

16 Hold firmly to the word of life; then, on the day of Christ’s return, I will be proud that I did not run the race in vain and that my work was not useless. 17 But I will rejoice even if I lose my life, pouring it out like a liquid offering to God – Philippians 2:16-17 NLT

And Paul would encourage the Philippian believers to have the same attitude, seeing their relationship with Christ as of more value than life itself.

Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I could gain Christ and become one with him. – Philippians 3:8-9 NLT

10 I want to know Christ and experience the mighty power that raised him from the dead. I want to suffer with him, sharing in his death, 11 so that one way or another I will experience the resurrection from the dead! – Philippians 3:10-11 NLT

Paul had no regrets. He felt no compulsion to apologize for his efforts or to excuse his actions. He had been faithful.

26 I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it’s not my fault, 27 for I didn’t shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know. – Acts 20:26-27 NLT

If someone died without knowing Christ, it was not Paul’s fault. He had done his job. He had faithfully declared the gospel and clearly articulated God’s plan of salvation. He had preached the Word of God unapologetically and fearlessly. And now, he was going to be heading to Jerusalem knowing that he might never see these brothers in Christ again. He had no idea what the future held. He lived with a sense of dependency upon the Spirit of God, that allowed him take one day at a time. He took nothing for granted. He savored every moment and made the most out of every minute given to him by God. Paul’s views regarding his ministry can best be summed up in the words he wrote to the believers in Philippi.

20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death. 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. – Philippians 1:20-21 ESV

Paul was encouraging these men by sharing with them his personal outlook on life. He knew that their ministry would be difficult, just as his had been. He realized that they would face times of uncertainty and fear. He had as well. He was well aware that they would be going back to Ephesus where they would face opposition of all kinds, both inside and outside of the church. But he was well acquainted with these things. These men were the God-appointed leaders of their local congregation. They had a huge responsibility and Paul wanted them to take it seriously. And his words would echo those of the apostle Peter, who also delivered strong words of encouragement and exhortation to the elders of the churches to whom he had ministered.

1 And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor. – 1 Peter 5:1-4 NLT

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

Shepherd Like It.

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.1 Peter 5:1-7 ESV

Peter turns his attention to the leadership who serve the local congregations within the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These men were overseers of their churches and had responsibility for the spiritual well-being of the congregations under their care. They are sometimes referred to as shepherds, who have a God-given responsibility to care for the flock entrusted to them by God. That’s exactly how Peter addresses them when he calls them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). It is the same thing Paul said to the elders in Ephesus. But Paul would give further insight into the nature of the shepherd/flock relationship. “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT). The sheep belong to God. And notice that Paul points out that the flock were purchased “with His own blood”, referring to the death of Jesus, but clearly indicating His deity. Jesus, the God-man, gave His life, so that those who call themselves children of God could enjoy freedom from sin and death. But those very same sheep have been placed under the care and supervision of elders. And these elders were expected to be men of integrity and spiritual maturity. Paul provided Timothy with a detailed description of their qualifying characteristics.

So an elder must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? – 1 Timothy 3:2-5 NLT

Peter himself was an elder and understood well the responsibility that came with the title. That’s why he charges his fellow elders to “Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you” (1 Peter 5:2 NLT). And he clarifies exactly what he means by “care for.” The Greek word Peter uses is poimainō, and it literally means “to feed.” Just as literal sheep need physical nourishment to sustain life, so the sheep of God require spiritual sustenance. An elder must see to it that the sheep under his care are being fed the Word of God and receiving instruction in the ways of God. Which is why Paul told Timothy that an elder “must be able to teach.” And his care for the flock must be something he does willingly, not under some sense of compulsion or duty, and not for what he can get out of it. The role of elder doesn’t come with a paycheck and, more often than not, will not be accompanied by a lot of recognition, reward or thankfulness from the sheep. As Peter points out, the motive behind being an elder is service to God.

Peter feels compelled to point out that an elder, who is ultimately serving God, is to never see his position as one of master over his servants. He is not a lord and the people within  his congregation are not his subjects. He is to view himself as a servant, not only of God, but of the people of God. The role of elder is not about power and authority, but about caring for the needs of others. And an elder must never lose sight of the fact that he answers to a higher authority, the Great Shepherd or Jesus Christ. And Peter reminds his fellow elders that, one day, Jesus is coming back, and at that time, they “will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor” (1 Peter 5:4 NLT). Elders don’t get their reward in this life, but in the life to come. This probably does not refer to a literal crown and is most likely not indicating that elders get a specific kind of crown for their service. The apostle Paul wrote, “And now the prize awaits me—the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give me on the day of his return. And the prize is not just for me but for all who eagerly look forward to his appearing” (2 Timothy 4:8 NLT). We all get the same reward. The key is that we be faithful to whatever assignment given to us by God to perform in this life. The point is, that our reward is in the life to come, not in this one.

Finally, Peter addresses the younger generation within his audience. He specifically calls them to humble themselves under the leadership of the elders who have God-given responsibility for their care. Submitting to authority of any kind is difficult for all of us. We are inherently autonomous creatures, prone to want to run our own lives and live according to our own wills. But God has placed within the body of Christ a system of authority and structure to ensure that the body works well and spiritual maturity actually take place.

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood… – Ephesians 4:11-13 NLT

This will require humility, and not only from the younger generation. Which is why Peter adds, “all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another” (1 Peter 5:5 NLT). There is a sense in which we must be willing to humble ourselves before every other individual within the body of Christ. Paul admonished the Ephesians to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21 NLT). He told the Philippian believers, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too” (Philippians 2:3-4 NLT). It would be next to impossible for an elder to shepherd non-submissive sheep. Headstrong sheep who have a mind of their own will be difficult to direct. So there is to be a mutual cooperation going on within the body of Christ that makes it possible for some to lead and others to willingly follow. There is to be a marked lack of competition and conflict within Christ’s church. There is no place for jealousy or envy. No one is to covet the role of another. No one is to think they are somehow better than another, just because of their particular God-given role. We are in this together.

Quoting Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, ““God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” The prideful do not receive the grace of God. They stand opposed to God. Which is why James quoted this same proverb, then added, “So humble yourselves before God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7 NLT). Pride is antithetical to the Christ-like life. There was no pride in Jesus. He exhibited no arrogance or sense of entitlement. In fact, Paul wrote:

6 Though he was God,
    he did not think of equality with God
    as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
    he took the humble position of a slave[c]
    and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
    and died a criminal’s death on a cross. – Philippians 2:6-8 NLT

And Paul says we are to have the same attitude Jesus had. An attitude of willing, submissive humility to God. It is that kind of attitude that makes the body of Christ work. Without it, there will be conflict, competition, envy, jealousy, disorder, and dysfunctionality. So, Peter encourages us to humble ourselves under God’s might hand, submitting fully to His plan for the church and for our lives within it. We are to trust Him for the future, knowing that at the right time, He will lift us up and exalt us. We are not to look for glory in this life, but in the life to come. Our reward is not temporal, but eternal. And in the meantime, we can take all our troubles and cares to Him, knowing He loves us and has His best in store for us. So elders have a God-given job to do and they are to shepherd like it. The people of God have the example of Christ to follow and they are to humbly submit like Him. All for the glory of God and the good of His people.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Godly Men.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you — if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For 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, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. – Titus 1:5-9 ESV

One of the first things Titus was to concentrate on was the appointment of elders for the local churches on Crete. As Paul’s letter will shortly disclose, there was a problem with disorder and doctrinal disruption within the church on Crete. Paul will describe these individuals as “insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers” (Titus 1:10 ESV).  He will accuse them of “upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach” (Titus 1:11 ESV). That’s why Paul tells Titus that he has been left in Crete with the specific task to “put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5 ESV). Paul gave Titus a two-part commission. The first was to put in order or to complete what was lacking or left undone. There were some issues within the church there that needed to be taken care of and Paul will spend a good portion of his letter explaining exactly what the issues were. But the second part of Titus’ commission was to appoint elders. He was going to need help. A big reason for the lack of order was based on a void of qualified leadership. Within any organization, if there is not adequate, qualified leadership, the void will end up being filled by someone. There will always be those who step into the leadership vacuum and attempt to use their power and influence to take charge. And evidently, that is exactly what was happening on Crete. So, Paul told Titus to take care of the problem by appointing men to help him lead the local body of believers. The responsibilities were too great for one man to handle on his own. But these couldn’t be just any kind of men. They were going to have to meet certain qualifications in order to be considered.

But it’s important to notice that Paul’s description of the qualifications has everything to do with character and says little about Scripture knowledge, academic aptitude, business savvy, or even leadership skills. Instead, Paul mentions qualities and characteristics that would have been visible to all those who knew these men. Titus was to look for the outward evidence of an inward transformation that had taken place in the lives of these men due to their relationship with Christ and their knowledge of the Word of God. Each of them were to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they had to know the truth of the Gospel and the realities regarding God and His redemptive plan for man, if they were going to be able to refute falsehood and defend the Good News from attack.

But the real point Paul seems to be making is the contrast of character between these future leaders and those who were doing harm to the church. Those who would lead the church had to be men who were above reproach or blameless. This didn’t mean that they had to be perfect or sinless. The Greek word Paul used referred to the fact that these men were to have no glaring character flaws. They were not to be guilty of living their lives in such a way that it would cause people to point their fingers in criticism, resulting in harm to the reputation of the church. They were to be loving husbands who didn’t have reputations for unfaithfulness. They were to be fathers who had proven themselves capable leaders at home, having children who had come to faith in Christ and who were modeling lives of moral integrity and obedience. This would seem to suggest that Paul was recommending men who were older, with children old enough to have come to faith in Christ and to have exhibited godly character. Paul went on to say that an elder candidate “must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain” (Titus 1:7 NLT). Instead, he was to be “hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined” (Titus 1:8 NLT). It’s interesting to note that Paul had to be so specific in his list of qualifying character traits. He went out of his way to list disqualifying characteristics as well. Arrogance, anger, greed, violence and a problem with alcohol would all be huge detriments to godly leadership. They are outward signs of someone who is under the control of the flesh and not the Spirit. In fact, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul provides an even more details list of those characteristics that mark someone who is living according to their sin nature: “sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division,  envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these” (Galatians 5:19-21 NLT). A man who was controlled by his own flesh was going to make a lousy leader. He would be disruptive and potentially destructive. And it’s obvious that the church on Crete already had enough negative influences impacting it. Titus was going to need godly men who exhibited lives that were under the control of the Spirit of God.

Titus was going to need help in dealing with the disorder and negative moral influences within the churches on Crete. He couldn’t handle it on his own. So Paul emphasized the need for him to find the right kind of men to lovingly lead the flock of God, providing much-needed discipline and modeling the character of Christ to all those around them. One of the main qualifications these men were to have was a love for the gospel. Paul tells Titus that each of them “must have a strong belief in the trustworthy message he was taught” (Titus 1:9 NLT). In other words, they must remain committed to the gospel message by which they came to faith in Christ. One of the problems going on there was the influence of false gospels. There were those who were preaching something other than salvation by faith alone in Christ alone. They were adding to the gospel. Paul will remind Titus that people were “listening to Jewish myths and the commands of people who have turned away from the truth” (Titus 1:14 NLT). So, the men Titus chose to help him lead the church were going to have to be men who were committed to the gospel message. They would not accept alternative versions of the truth. They would not tolerate false gospels or destructive heresies.

These men were not to function as a board of directors. They were not to be figure heads or to function as nothing more than an advisory board for Titus. They were to be overseers, shepherds and pastors to the flock. They were to be godly in character and bold in their witness. Paul had a strong view of eldership. He knew these men were indispensable to the spiritual well-being of the church. Which is why he told the elders in Ephesus: “So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock—his church, purchased with his own blood—over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as leaders” (Acts 20:28 NLT).

We live in the midst of an ungodly world and there is an ongoing need for godly men who will step forward and provide leadership and protection for the flock of God. The church needs men of character who are led by the Spirit of God and committed to the Word of God. Disorder and disruption are all around us. That’s why qualified men are in great need, even today.

English Standard Version (ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Wearing Humility With Pride.

So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – 1 Peter 5:1-5 ESV

The above title is meant to create a certain degree of disconnect in your mind when you read it. Is it really possible to wear humility with pride. It would seem contradictory to say that someone is proud of their humility. The two characteristics are anything but complementary. In their very essence, they oppose one another. And that is why Peter is continuing this section on suffering for righteousness’ sake with some very specific words of application regarding the role of humility within the body of Christ. First of all, he addresses the elders or overseers of the church. He qualifies his right to address them based on his own role as an elder and an apostle. As an apostle of Jesus, Peter had been en eye-witness to the sufferings of Jesus, having watched Him endure scourging, mocking, beatings and public scorn during His trials, and the public pain and humiliation of crucifixion. He knew first-hand what suffering for righteousness’ sake looked like. He knew far too well just how costly the kind of humility he was talking could be. He had watched Jesus die, willingly and obediently, fulfilling the will of His Father. But Peter had also been there when Jesus appeared in His resurrected state, and he had heard Jesus say, “Thus it is written, that the Christ would suffer and rise again from the dead the third day, and that repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things” (Luke 24:46-48 ESV). And Peter had been an eyewitness to Jesus’ ascension back into heaven. He had been “a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed” (1 Peter 5:1b ESV). And Peter had heard the angel proclaim, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking into heaven? This Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11 ESV).

So based on his qualifications, Peter addressed the elders by telling them to “shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you” (1 Peter 5:2 ESV). They were not to do it for money or power. Their role was not to be seen as a status symbol, but as a statement of humility and service. They were to lead by example. Their lives were to be models of righteousness and godly leadership. They were to find their motivation in their future glorification, not any sense of prominence or pride they might find in this life. Peter had remembered well the words of Jesus spoken on the hillside years earlier: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before men to be noticed by them; otherwise you have no reward with your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1 ESV). Jesus had gone on to say that if your motivation was to be seen and praised by men, you would have your reward in full: the recognition and praise of men. But elders were to have a higher standard, a loftier goal. And they were to be examples to all those under their care.

Paul had given similar words of admonition to the elders from Ephesus:

You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, how I was with you the whole time, serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, solemnly testifying to both Jews and Greeks of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. And now, behold, bound by the Spirit, I am on my way to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there, except that the Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me. But I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, so that I may finish my course and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God. – Acts 20:18-24 ESV

He went on to tell them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28 ESV). They were to see the people of God as belonging to God, having been paid for by the death of Christ. They were simply overseers or caretakers, ultimately answering to God for those He had placed in their care. Like any shepherd, they were to offer protection and provision, care and comfort. Like Jesus, they were to be willing to lay down their lives for the sheep. They were to live in constant recognition that they would one day answer to the Chief Shepherd.

But Peter didn’t just address elders. He went on to deal with those within the congregation who were younger. He encouraged them to live in submission to their elders. That would require humility on their part. Self-autonomy is a part of human nature. We all want to run our own lives and to control our own fates. But within the body of Christ, God has called for order, structure, and a spirit of submission and humility. In fact, Peter went on to speak to everybody in the church, saying, “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another” (1 Peter 5:5 ESV). It is difficult, if not impossible, to lead the prideful and stubborn. Hard-headed sheep require a heavy-handed shepherd. But if we all learn to live humbly and submissively, leadership becomes much easier and following, much more pleasant.

Quoting from the Greek translation of Proverbs 3:34, Peter writes, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” James quoted from the same passage when he wrote, “But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, ‘God opposed the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Submit yourselves therefore to God” (James 4:6-7 ESV). Ultimately, our submission is to be toward God. As Peter will say in the very next verse in this chapter, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, so that in due time He may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6 ESV). Shepherds are to lead, humbly. The sheep are to follow, humbly. Each is to willingly wait for God to glorify them at the proper time and in according to His divine will. There is no place for pride in the life of the humble.

When the Righteous Pray.

Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.
 – James 5:16 ESV

This verse can be extremely encouraging and frustratingly confusing at the same time. Too often, it is lifted out of context and this tends to dramatically alter its meaning. Beginning in verse 13, James brings up the matter of prayer a number of times. First he says, “Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray….” Then he adds, “Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him…” (James 5:14 ESV). But he makes sure to mention “the prayer of faith will save the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up” (James 5:15 ESV). Finally, James provides on last condition: “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (James 5:16 ESV). It is obvious that James is focused on prayer. Prayer for the suffering, the sick, and the sinful. But he adds an important condition concerning prayer for these people. The prayers are to be prayed by the righteous. But what does that mean? Is he saying that only those without sin can pray? That would be impossible. All of us sin at one time or another. So how could he speaking of a state of sinlessness?

James tells us, “The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working” (James 5:16 ESV). So who is this righteous person? Is he some kind of super-spiritual saint who has a special hotline to God due to his righteous nature? Is it an individual who has somehow kept themselves free from sin and therefore right in God’s eyes? I don’t think that gels with what the Scriptures tell us about man’s condition. Over in Romans 1:17, Paul writes, “This Good News tells us how God makes us right in his sight. This is accomplished from start to finish by faith. As the Scriptures say, ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life.’” In his letter to the Philippians, Paul wrote, “I no longer count on my own righteousness through obeying the law; rather, I become righteous through faith in Christ. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith” (Philippians 3:9 NLT).

The issue here is faith. Our righteousness before God is based solely on faith in Jesus Christ. It is our belief in His redemptive work on the cross that brings about our transformation. It was His death that made possible our right relationship, our right standing, before God. What makes us righteous is our faith in Christ. It is what allows us to come into the very presence of God and make petitions on behalf of those who are suffering, sick or struggling with sin. And it is our faith in the power of God to hear our prayers and do something about them that results in remarkable answers to those prayers. God doesn’t answer our prayers because of any righteousness of our own. We don’t earn His answers based on some good deeds we have done. It is always based on faith and that faith is placed in Christ alone.

Paul told the Philippians, “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (Philippians 5:21 NLT). It is our right standing before God, our righteousness provided by His death, that allows us to offer up prayers on behalf of one another. We can pray, knowing that we have access to God’s throne room and His full and undivided attention when we pray. God sees us as righteous because of the blood of Christ shed on our behalf that cleansed us from all unrighteousness once and for all. But we must come to Him in faith. Not based on our own merit, but on the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Our prayers are powerful, because our God is powerful. Our prayers are heard, because our Savior made us right with God. Our prayers can accomplish much, because nothing is impossible for our God. But we must pray. We must understand that we have a right standing before God. Our sins are forgiven. Our requests are heard. Our righteousness is acceptable to God. And He is ready to do far more than we could ever imagine – for the suffering, the sick and the sinful.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

The Need For Godly Leadership.

2 Chronicles 29-30, Titus 1

He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. Titus 1:9 ESV

Hezekiah was a like a breath of fresh air in the stagnant spiritual environment that had so long plagued Judah. The northern kingdom of Israel had already fallen to the Assyrians and the people had been taken into captivity. Hezekiah’s father, Ahaz, had closed down the Temple of God, and led the people of Judah in the worship of false gods. He had built high places for the worship of these false gods all over the land of Judah. But then Hezekiah took the throne, and he proved to be a leader of a different sort. One of his first acts as king was to reopen the Temple. He recommissioned the priests, commanding them to consecrate and cleanse themselves so that they could properly care for and cleanse the Temple. Evidently, since the Temple had been shut down, these men had neglected their duties as the spiritual leaders of Judah. But Hezekiah ordered them to take seriously their God-given responsibility and cleanse the Temple. Then they were able to reinstate the sacrificial system and the worship of God. But one of the most amazing acts of spiritual leadership Hezekiah performed was his call to the remnant left in Israel to return to God. He sent messengers all throughout the land of Israel, begging those who had been left to repent and return. “O people of Israel, return to the Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, that he may turn again to the remnant of you who have escaped from the hand of the kings of Assyria” (2 Chronicles 30:6 ESV). He reminded them that “the Lord your God is gracious and merciful and will not turn away his face from you, if you return to him” (2 Chronicles 30:9 ESV). Hezekiah not only had a heart for God, but a heart for God’s people – even those who were living in open rebellion to Him.

What does this passage reveal about God?

As Hezekiah had told the people of Israel, God is gracious and merciful. He is always willing to forgive. Even after all that the people had done to offend Him, God was still willing to forgive them. He was even willing to pardon those who ate the Passover meal even though they did so in an unworthy manner. It seems that many of the people showed up for the Passover having not properly consecrated themselves. They were ritually impure or unclean. But Hezekiah prayed, “May the good Lord pardon everyone who sets his heart to seek God, the Lord, the God of his fathers, even though not according to the sanctuary’s rules of cleanness” (2 Chronicles 30:18-19 ESV). And God heard Hezekiah’s prayer and graciously pardoned the people. His concern was the condition of their hearts. Their heartfelt desire to return to Him and worship Him was far more important than whether they had kept the letter of the law. God has always been concerned about the condition of the heart. He had made it clear that adherence to rules and rituals without the heart was worthless. Through the prophet, Isaiah, God had accused the people of Israel of going through the motions. “Because this people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment taught by men” (Isaiah 29:13 ESV). Many years later, Jesus Himself would say, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone” (Matthew 15:19 ESV). God looks at the heart. He knew the heart of Hezekiah. He could see the hearts of the people. He knew they were sincere and desired to worship Him, even though they may have failed to keep the letter of the law.  

What does this passage reveal about man?

Hezekiah was not just a political and military leader. He was a spiritual leader and he took his role seriously. He knew that the health and future well being of the nation was directly linked to their relationship with God. So he lead the people in returning to God. He called them back to a right relationship with the only one who could save them and protect them. But not everyone was willing to follow Hezekiah’s leadership. Many of those living in what was left of the kingdom of Israel refused his invitation to return to the Lord. Even though they had suffered greatly at the hands of the Assyrians and watched as their relatives and friends were taken into captivity, when Hezekiah’s messengers arrived inviting them to the Passover, “they laughed them to scorn and mocked them” (2 Chronicles 30:10 ESV). But there were those who did accept Hezekiah’s offer and returned to the Lord. Not everything a godly leader does will appear successful. Not everyone will follow. The prophets of God are a perfect illustration of that truth. They faithfully followed the commands of God, telling the people the words of God, but the people would refuse to listen. The people would reject their calls to repent and return. They would ignore their warnings of God’s impending punishment. But the prophets remained faithful to their God-given commission. Paul would command Titus to appoint elders in all the towns and villages where churches had been established. And he gave Titus clear criteria concerning the qualifications of these men. They were to be above reproach, not arrogant, quick-tempered, prone to drunkenness, or greedy. Instead, they were to be hospitable, lovers of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. But more than anything, these men needed to be able to “give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9 ESV). God’s people require godly leaders – men who are not afraid to speak the truth of God, boldly and unapologetically. Hezekiah was that kind of man.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

The church today is in desperate need of godly leaders. It is filled with complacent and casual Christians who have compromised their faith by growing comfortable with the world. There are many who go through the motions, attending church, even going to Bible studies and other seemingly spiritual activities, but their hearts are far from God. They are ignorant of the truth of God. They remain unrepentant of their sins and their hearts are far from Him. There is a need for godly leaders who will step up and speak out. The people of Judah needed Hezekiah. Had he not lead, the people would have continued to live according the example of Ahaz. Without Hezekiah’s leadership, the priests and Levites would have remained unconsecrated and, therefore, unqualified to serve the people. The doors of the Temple would have remained shut and the sacrificial system unavailable. It took a godly leader to turn things around. I pray that I might be that kind of leader. I pray that God will raise up more men and women like Hezekiah in our day. We need leaders who are more committed to the cause of Christ and the call of God than the applause men.

Father, raise up more godly leaders in our day. The church is in an unhealthy state. There are many who claim to be Your people, who “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works” (Titus 1:16 ESV). May You raise up leaders who are unafraid to speak Your truth boldly and call Your people back to You. May our greatest desire be to call the people of God back to a sound faith and a firm commitment to You. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men
kenm@christchapelbc.org