1 Timothy 3:1-7


1 Timothy 3:1-7

Download audio

Download sermon

Remember, in this letter Paul is teaching us, as he says in 3:15, “how to conduct ourselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God.” These particular instructions, among many others that might have been given, are no doubt directly related in one way or another, to the crisis in the Ephesian church, the crisis provoked by false teaching; the crisis that accounted for Timothy’s being in Ephesus on Paul’s behalf. He was there, as we read in 1:3ff, to put matters right. It certainly appears that he was needed there in some significant part because the leadership of the church had either been compromised, falling itself under the spell of the false teachers, or had been incapable of arresting the popularity of their teaching or the spread of its practice. So far as we know, the false teaching in Ephesus was not brought in from outside, as had been the case in Galatia, but was homegrown. It was perhaps the church’s own leaders, or some of them, who had betrayed the gospel both by their teaching and their behavior. To put it simply, “almost every quality Paul specifies here has its negative counterpart in the Ephesian opponents.” [Mounce, 153] They are bringing the church into disrepute, but an elder must be above reproach. They are teaching for financial gain, but an elder must not be a lover of money. They are promiscuous but an elder must be a one-woman man. And so on.

We have before us tonight an immensely important passage of the Bible, but one of those passages that gets looked at very carefully from time to time with respect to one issue or another and then not much at all otherwise. It is as important as it is not because it explains the way of salvation or the nature of faith in Christ but because the church’s choice of her leadership has always had so much to do with whether she will remain doctrinally sound and spiritually healthy. The spiritual death of churches, which has occurred with dismal regularity through the ages, is invariably first a failure of her leadership. Here Paul tells us what sort of leadership the church requires and there is no other passage in the New Testament so explicit or so helpful in that regard.

I am going to make some extensive comments on the text as we read it. It can’t be helped because there are so many matters of importance hidden in these details. This evening the reading will be longer and the sermon correspondingly shorter.

Text Comment

v.1

The word overseer, the Greek ἐπίσκοπος, from which we get “episcopal”, as in the Episcopal Church, is the term that would be translated in English as “bishop,” and be taken to refer to a higher church office than that of the ordinary priest or minister. It would fall to the Presbyterians at the time of the Reformation and thereafter to point out that the word was used in the NT as a synonym for the term “elder” or πρεσβύteρος and obviously referred to the same office, not a different one. “Elder” and “bishop” in the NT, or “Elder” and “overseer,” are two different names for the same thing. In Titus 1:5 Paul calls these officers “elders” rather than “overseers,” as here. In Acts 20 the terms are used interchangeably. “Overseer” refers to the function of this leader; “elder,” refers to his character. “Elder” literally means “old man,” (it originates in the Hebrew noun “beard”) but the idea of the term in its use throughout the Bible is that of a man of spiritual experience, wisdom, and maturity, the sort of virtues that are supposed to come with years; the virtues Paul will now list.

Whenever these standards have been upheld by the church and adorned by the men holding the office, the Christian ministry and eldership have always been held in high esteem, even by non-Christians, so it is natural that young men with a spiritual mind would aspire to this office. Paul may be addressing here, however, a fear on the part of some men to assume office in the church because of the present turmoil or for fear of incurring the hostility of the false teachers. Not everyone has always aspired to the responsibilities that come with this office. For example, because of the practice of the church in his day of electing able men to episcopal vacancies by public acclamation — the people would suddenly decide that the man they wanted was standing right there — whether or not he was a Christian minister, whether or not he had any interest in the office — and would elect him on the spot, as had happened with Ambrose and Hilary – I say, because of that practice Augustine for some time after he became a Christian and then after he became a priest avoided going anywhere where he knew the bishop’s chair was vacant! [Essential Sermons 355.2, p. 407]

“I wouldn’t go near a place where I knew there was no bishop. I avoided this job, and I did everything I could to assure my salvation in a lowly position, and not to incur the grave risks of a high one.”

v.2

“Above reproach” does not, of course, mean sinless. But the Bible often refers to the godly in such terms. We are taught here that real righteousness of life is a visible quality and so can be made a qualification for office. In this case, it was precisely this failing on the part of the false teachers — and perhaps some of the church’s leaders — that was dragging down the public reputation of the church in Ephesus. “Above reproach” comes first. The eleven traits or virtues that follow simply fill out what it means to be “above reproach.”

“Husband of one wife” does not refer to how many times a man has been married but to how many wives he has at the moment. Polygamy was practiced in Judaism at this time, was even regulated by rabbinic laws. [Mounce, 171] And while monogamy was the law of the Greco-Roman world, extra-marital dalliances, the keeping of mistresses, and the possession of concubines were commonplace. [Demosthenes, Orations, 59.122] The church, with the exception of the Eastern Orthodox Church to some degree, has never thought that Paul meant to exclude bachelors or widowers from church office! A great pastor of mine was a bachelor all his life. Indeed, neither Paul nor Timothy was a married man with a family.  But the false teachers , as we know from later in the letter, were discouraging marriage, so this qualification for an elder is also an affirmation of Christian marriage. Its basic point is that a man must be a faithful husband, as later we will read he must be a faithful father.

“Able to teach,” makes perfect sense in the situation, as the wrong kind of teaching was the problem in Ephesus. The church needed able teachers, not simply gifted communicators but men who were in their teaching loyal to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints. But, as a qualification for the office of overseer, it poses a problem. In both 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 Paul lists “teaching” among the gifts that the Holy Spirit gives to some in the church. In those lists, however, there is also a gift of ruling or leadership. In both of those texts it would overturn Paul’s argument to conclude that in order to use the gift of rule or leadership, for example, one would also have to possess the gift of teaching. No; his rule is emphatically this: whatever a man is gifted to do, that is what he should do. So if a man’s gift is ruling he should rule; if it is teaching, he should teach. That simple logic has led Christians through the ages to conclude both that there is a gift of ruling and that this gift is what qualifies a man to be an elder of the church. But, if so, what does Paul mean by saying here that an overseer or elder must be able to teach? Does he mean that only men who are effective teachers can be rulers in the church? Not all men who have the gift of making wise decisions and of giving sound counsel are blessed with the gifts of public speaking.

Calvin and the Westminster divines, comparing this text with 1 Cor. 12 and Romans 12 decided that Paul was talking here in 1 Tim. 3 about the men we would call ministers or pastors or preachers and not about the men we would call ruling elders. The “able to teach” means that Paul must have had only pastors and preachers in view. But what about the term “overseer” a synonym for “elder,” given the fact that we know from other texts that there were “elders” — that is, lay rulers — who did not labor in preaching and teaching, a point made explicitly in 1 Tim. 5:17. Well, the best answer to that question that I know is that the term “elder” in the NT can be specifically related to an office of rule or it can be an embracive term to describe all the leaders of the church, rulers and preachers alike. That was, in fact, the double way the term was used among the Jews in the first century. Similarly, in the New Testament, the term “elder” or “overseer” can be either embracive, referring to all church leaders, or specific, referring to church rulers only. In the Gospels, for example, we read of the “elders of the people” and of the Sanhedrin as composed of the elders of the Jews. Now we know that the Sanhedrin was composed of both priests and lay rulers, but for the purposes of identifying them as leaders of the church they were all called “elders.” But no one thought that being an elder made a man a priest. Both priests and lay rulers shared the title “elder” in its embracive sense, but priests and elders occupied different offices and had different functions and responsibilities. They may have both been leaders of the church, but they were not leaders in the same way. We would say today that they held different offices, even if both could be called “elders” in a general sense.

You may be aware of the disagreement in our own church, the Presbyterian Church in America, between advocates of what are called the two-office and three-office views of Presbyterian Church government. In the two-office view, elders are all the same and are distinguished in their role simply by the practical issues of gifts and interests. Preaching and the administration of worship and the sacraments are simply functions that are added to the responsibilities of some elders but not necessarily to those of others. But the office that they hold is the same. The pastor is an elder and nothing more; so are the ruling elders. They share the same office. The two-office view did not originate in America but found fertile soil here in the anti-clerical and egalitarian spirit of the culture. You can hear some PCA people talking about this and very soon it becomes clear that the real issue for them is the suspicion that, on the other view, one man might have a slightly higher position than another.

Historically, Presbyterianism has been three-office and the offices are minister, ruler or elder, and deacon. Even if the term elder is sometimes used embracively for both minister and lay-ruler — as it was in Judaism — that hardly proves that the minister and the lay-ruler hold the same office. Both Peter and John refer to themselves as “elders” in their letters, but no one imagined that because apostles were elders therefore all elders were apostles. Old Testament church government was explicitly three office. Priest and elder were different offices, with different qualifications, and different responsibilities. Both of those functions come into the New Testament and it seems the terminology came with them. Paul himself says, in Romans 15, that he was a priest because he was a preacher of the gospel. In Acts 6 the apostles say they need a new office, the diaconate, so that they will not be distracted from their proper work as preachers and superintendents of the church’s worship (called “the prayer”). What the apostles meant was that they were priests and had the responsibilities of priests — Word and worship — and that, therefore, they needed to remain priests doing a priest’s job. What is more, the early church had a three-office church government, harder to explain if the church government of apostolic Christianity was revolutionary in having but two offices.

It is a small point in one respect: whatever is said of the qualifications of church leaders here would apply to ruling elders except the stipulation that they be able to teach. But there is a principle of great practical importance for a congregation. A man does not have to be a scintillating Sunday School teacher in order to be a faithful and useful elder in the Christian church. In other respects the requirements would be the same. I’ll leave it to you to decide whether Paul is talking only of the men we would call pastors or ministers here, or whether he is listing all the requirements for any church leader (pastor or lay-ruler), on the understanding that if he should be a pastor/preacher he should have the gift of teaching.

v.3

Some have argued that this list of qualifications suggests that the standard must have been pretty low in those early years, when virtually every adult in the church was a convert and came out of “a background of low moral ideals.” [Guthrie, 80] We’ve just been reminded by Blake Purcell a few weeks ago that the new Christians in these Presbyterian churches across Russia have to learn things as basic as the fact that husbands are supposed to love their wives and that they are supposed to be involved in the raising of their children. These men have never had an example set for them of godly manhood in the home. Their own homes were examples of the wreckage of that non-Christian culture. They have to learn the most basic things from scratch. Well so with many men of the first century. Drunkenness, for example, was commonplace in Greco-Roman life. We take it as a matter of course that men who are elders in the church are not drunks or constantly getting into fights. On the other hand, still today experienced Christian men who ought to know better can be quarrelsome, can drink too much, or too often be angry with their wives or children. A Christian gentleman, kind and open-hearted, who is careful and generous with his money but who very obviously is not worldly-minded is still rarer than he ought to be!

The requirement that an elder not be a lover of money is also, no doubt, due to the fact that the false teachers were charging for their services and were selling their message. A generation later, in the Didache, one of the earliest Christian documents that has been preserved, we read a regulation regarding traveling teachers that may hark back to lessons learned the hard way in Ephesus: “If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.” [15]

v.5

This may be the biblical command most often openly violated in evangelical churches, including Reformed and Presbyterian churches. The principle is simple enough: a man must prove himself and his leadership in a smaller sphere, one over which he has an even greater measure of control, before he is given responsibility for a still larger sphere. Titus puts the point more explicitly which is expressed more implicitly here: “he must have believing children.”

As an instance of the application of Paul’s teaching in the early church here is the 18th canon of the Third Council of Carthage [A.D. 397].  “That bishops and presbyters and deacons should not be ordained before they make catholic Christians of all who are in their home.” [C. Spicq, Saint Paul: Les Épître Pastorales, Paris, 1947, 231] A man who is to oversee the faithfulness of the Christian church should have produced that faithfulness in his own house first.

On the other hand, it is also important to note that the Apostle does not tell us precisely what he means when he says that a man must have believing or submissive children. What if the child of that man is now forty-five years of age and he turns away from the faith? What if the man has six children and a nineteen year old son alone among them is living in rebellion? I can imagine elders examining that case and concluding that the man, so far as they can tell, is a faithful father, that for that reason they have high hopes that the rebellious son will come to his senses. Or I can imagine elders thinking that, given the man’s fatherhood, the amazing thing is not that one son has rebelled but that the other five children have not. That is the sort of question that elders must answer and why they must be for that reason thoroughly acquainted not only with the Word of God but with the observation of Christian life and have proved themselves to possess sound judgment.

v.7

An elder should be neither a novice lest he be more likely to fall prey to pride, the sin that unmanned the Devil himself, nor should he be the kind of man whose reputation among unbelievers would bring upon the church unnecessary abuse. A sterling Christian character has almost always been admired by the world but the world at the same time is always on the lookout for the first scent of hypocrisy for which she can condemn the church and the Christians in the church.

Now what shall I do with this text this evening? We nominated and elected elders quite recently and through that process thought and spoke a great deal about the qualifications for church office. The men themselves went over this and other texts having to do with the office and its qualifications in great detail. As a congregation we are unlikely to revisit this question for some time. So, while it is extremely important that we know the content of this text and take seriously its teaching and obey it when we are electing officers, as a congregation we will not apply this teaching as electors of elders any time soon. Our elders, of course, can take this text to heart again and again and use it as a spur to aspire to the higher reaches of Christian godliness and usefulness. Young men can consider its teaching as a goal, a summons for their future. They must become such men as Paul describes here. All of that is to the good.

But there is something more general here that is of very great importance. We find it in many places in the Word of God but strikingly here and it is this I want to draw to your attention and commend to your hearts this evening. I want to apply the text not to a congregation about to elect officers or to men about to become officers; I want to apply it to all of you. I want to show you how it applies to you, no matter your sex or your age, or your station in life. And it does apply to all of you in this way: there is here a striking, unusual, even I think for some Christians nowadays an almost offensive emphasis placed here upon a standard of character and conduct.  It is a summons to every Christian to consider how seriously the Bible takes the standards of Christian godliness; how much emphasis is placed in the Bible on how you and I live our lives as Christians. Such men who are to lead and represent the Christian church must live lives of a certain kind. But, did you notice? There is nothing here — apart from the man being a husband and a father and able to teach — that is not elsewhere and often in the Bible required of any and every Christian. There is nothing peculiar in this list, nothing unique to church officers. Paul is describing the Christian life. He is describing the life of a man who has gone beyond and reached a higher standard of Christian life.

  1. Every Christian should strive to live a life that is above reproach. Usually when the idea of blamelessness appears in the NT it is in reference to all Christians, not simply their leaders.
  2. Similarly, all Christians are to be faithful to their spouses; all forms of sexual or marital infidelity are condemned outright in the Word of God.
  3. All Christians are to be sober-minded, self-controlled, respectful, decent or dignified, and we are all commanded, in Romans, Hebrews, and 1 Peter, as throughout the OT, to show hospitality to others, to have open and welcoming homes.
  4. No Christian is permitted to be a drunk, or violent, or quarrelsome, or a lover of money. We are taught repeatedly and explicitly that such vices are to be banished from our lives and also repeatedly warned of the consequences if they are not.
  5. Every Christian parent is to raise his children in the instruction and discipline of the Lord; we first read that general obligation as far back as Genesis 18!
  6. We are all to be humble and we are all to be the salt of the earth, the light of the world, and a city set on a hill. That is the world is to be able to see our good works and glorify our Father in heaven. The Lord makes that a theme of his famous Sermon on the Mount but it is hardly only there that we are required to live lives that adorn the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

So far as 1 Tim. 3:1-7 is concerned, the only difference between the church’s leadership and the rest of her membership — besides the gift of rule and the gift of teaching — is that the leadership must be male and must have made significant advance in these virtues that are common to the Christian life. Such a man must have advanced further than might be expected of a younger, less experienced believer. Now, are you willing to face the unique importance of that fact?

No religion in the world except Christianity makes absolutely nothing of human conduct and character in the acquiring of peace with God and entrance into eternal life. Every other faith, every other philosophy of life teaches some form of salvation as the reward for human performance. As the ancients said to God: do ut des, I give to you so that you will give to me. But the Bible teaches us that the only righteousness acceptable to God far surpasses anything of which sinful human beings are capable, that our present and future performance is powerless to address the existence of our already mountainous guilt, and so performance acceptable to God is simply beyond us. And so, therefore, helpless ourselves, we require the performance, the righteousness, the obedience of another, obedience that is as perfect and complete as God requires.  If we are to be righteous before God, someone else will have to make us so, because we can’t. And so God made his Son, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him. We are absolutely forbidden in the Bible to rest our hopes of heaven upon our own performance. Our efforts are too pathetic and God’s standards are too impossibly high. Only Christ could meet them and he did meet them in our place and on our behalf. This is why faith looms so large in the Christian faith: faith is confidence placed in another, the promise and the performance of someone else; in this case Jesus Christ.  No one is good enough for salvation, the bottom fact of the Christian faith. We must have a savior.

But, at the same time, no religion in the world places so great and so searching emphasis upon the conduct and the character of its practitioners as does Christianity. We may not get to heaven on the strength of our behavior or our performance, but having been given entrance into eternal life as a free gift, we are laid under the absolute obligation of spending our lives concentrating on nothing so much as living that life that is pleasing to God. We have reversed the ancient formula. For us it is not “I give so that you will give,” but “You, O God, have given to me so that I might give to you.” Or as Paul famously put it, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works…”

No other religion lays its people under such all-consuming and wearying and exhausting obligations to the highest principles of human behavior. Christians are commanded to love everyone, even their enemies, and that love must be shown not only in outward behavior but as well in the attitudes and the thoughts of the heart. There is no such searching morality held before men and women anywhere else in the world; there never has been, there never will be, I can guarantee you. There’s not in Buddhism or Hinduism or Islam, nor in any of the secular philosophies of life. They may admire the virtuous life, by which they ordinarily mean a very mildly virtuous life, but they do not make such a life the be all and end all of a person’s existence, as the Bible does for Christians. The Christian — the only man or woman in the world who knows that he or she is not good enough for God — I say, the Christian is the only one in the world whose calling in life is to strive to be good enough for God.

This is all the more striking given that the Bible is so candid about the continuing sinfulness and moral failure of even the best Christians. How easy it would have been — indeed, how easy it often has been for Christians — to accept our moral imperfections and make peace with them, to content ourselves with Christ’s righteousness and simply to wait for the day when we will be made perfect in the immediate presence of God. But we are forbidden to entertain such thoughts throughout the Bible. Always and everywhere we are commanded to press on, as Paul tells the Corinthians (2 Cor. 7:1):

“…to cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.”

If somebody asks you what you are living for; what is the purpose of your life, you are not free to give any number of answers. The answer you are to give is “to cleanse myself from every defilement of body and spirit, and to bring holiness to completion in the fear of God.” That is what I was made for, that’s what I was saved for, and that is what I live for as a follower of Jesus Christ. Again and again we are told to walk worthy of the grace we have received or to live worthy of the Lord. That is the assumption underlying all that Paul wrote here in 1 Tim. 3. Christians must live a holy life, an honest life, a gentle, kind, and generous life, a faithful life. A Christian is not someone who can content himself with three of those and take a pass on three others. That is who and what they are: people who understand their calling in life to live worthy of the Lord who loved them and gave himself for them. That is what they are all about. A man who drinks too much, a man who loses his temper, a man who is quarrelsome, a man of worldly loves and ambitions, a man who doesn’t love his wife ardently and faithfully, manage his home competently, and raise his children to love and serve the Lord, a man who is not well-thought of by unbelievers who know him, that man has a defect that disqualifies him to be a leader in the church, to be a representative Christian. That man, in that respect, to that extent, is not what a Christian man should be! Paul, the champion of salvation by grace alone, here tells us that such a manis not good enough to be an overseer in God’s house. To meet the Christian standard of conduct and character he must become a better man than he is.

We are unused to speaking in these terms nowadays in the evangelical and Reformed world, but is that not what Paul is plainly saying here? We would never say it, certainly not in this way, that this man is a better Christian than that man. But that is precisely what the Bible tells us, and not just here but over and over and over again. There are many Christians who need to be much better Christians than they are and only those Christians who are those better Christians qualify to serve in these offices. No one may be good enough for salvation, but that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t matter how good a Christian is, how well he lives, and what kind of reputation he has. It matters a great deal. The Bible does not scruple to say that our way of life, as people saved by grace, our character, or our behavior is so crucial and so much a part of what it means to honor the Lord, that those who have not met those standards are unfit for this sacred and important and honorable work.

How ironic that the very religion that banishes all thought of proper behavior and virtuous character as means of acquiring peace with God, lays so much emphasis on that behavior and that character in the aftermath of salvation. So much are the two drawn together — salvation, on the one hand, and a virtuous way of life, on the other — that again and again we are taught that there cannot be one without the other. Salvation may not depend upon a virtuous life, but it absolutely will produce one, though in varying measure!

This is why throughout the Bible we are commanded, urged, and warned to aspire to a virtuous life, that we are to keep every one of God’s commandments, and that we are not to rest until Christ Jesus has been formed in us and has taken full possession of our character and conduct. No Christian ever believes that he or she has reached that goal — not in this life — and surely he or she is right about that. But, equally, wise Christians never use that fact as an excuse to leave off striving to reach for that goal and to advance toward that goal. The goal may be beyond us, but it is possible to get much closer than we have so far! All of that is the presupposition of 1 Timothy 3:1-7.

You know how real the temptation is not to strive, to get weary and leave it off. One of the proofs of that is that churches so often fail to heed Paul’s commandments here and choose for their leadership men, and now, alas, women, who don’t measure up to Paul’s profile of a mature Christian, the kind of person who ought to represent the Christian church and ought to lead the Christian church. They choose men who have not managed their homes well or raised their children to love the Lord Jesus. They choose quarrelsome men, or men who are not hospitable and open-hearted. They choose novices who have nothing yet to contribute to the rule of the church, but who are allowed to think that they do. A church that can’t tell the difference between a Christian whose life qualifies him for the leadership of the church and a Christian whose life does not qualify him is a church unlikely to enjoy God’s continued blessing. Godly character and holy living at the top is the essential foundation of a healthy church.

This past Monday, the Rev. Vung Tombing died in Churachandpur, Manipur, India. I met Vung as a seminarian in St. Louis in the early 1970s. I was just out of college while he was already a mature man who had served for some years as a pastor. It was his sense that he needed more biblical learning to serve his congregation more fruitfully that took him to a Presbyterian divinity school half-way around the world. After seminary he returned to his homeland and to his ministry. After some years of increasing frustration in the denomination of his upbringing, he founded a new Presbyterian Church. Very small in its beginnings — indeed the initial congregation was small enough to meet in his own home — it was an act of real faith on Vung’s part. But he felt strongly that the Lord was not being honored in the church of his upbringing, that much of the Word of God was not being faithfully taught, and his efforts to address these deficiencies were not proving welcome to his fellow ministers. But small as the beginnings were, the Lord wonderfully blessed those small beginnings as we know.

Now, some 28 years later, that one little church has become nearly a hundred congregations and some of them are immense. The church has started a number of Christian schools, some of them are likewise very large; one has some 2,500 students enrolled. They have founded a Christian college that now has several thousand students and already a better reputation than the state university. There is an orphanage, a wide-ranging program of caring for children whose unwed mothers cannot provide adequately for them, a ministry to rescue young women from the sex trade and teach them marketable skills, a Bible institute for the training of future pastors, and the list goes on and on. There are thousands of people in Manipur who are Christians today because of Vung Tombing’s commitment to Christ, to the gospel, and to the Word of God.

I have never met a person who at the sound of Vung Tombing’s name did not say something indicating love and admiration.  My father had given up on bringing Indian students to study at Covenant Seminary in St. Louis because invariably upon graduation they had stayed in the United States and not returned to India as they had promised to do. But when he met Vung in India in the early 1970s he decided that here was a man he could trust. For most of his time in the United States he was separated from his family (and he was a loving family man), so meager were his resources, but so great was his desire to prepare himself properly for the Christian ministry. He was a hard worker. But he was also honest, kind, gentle. He was universally liked by the students whose classes he shared, universally admired by his professors for his commitment to study in a language that was not his mother tongue and to get the greatest possible benefit from that study.

I run my eye down this catalog of Christian virtues and see Vung Tombing described in every one of them. He presided with dignity over a loving family — his first wife died and he remarried and so his life as a husband greatly blessed two Christian women — he raised his daughter to love and serve the Lord — her name, by the way, is LaVerne Rayburn Tombing; not a typical Manipuree name! — and he has been very influential — a second father really — to his nephews, Khen and Lian, both of whom have visited here and both of whom are sterling Christian men and Christian ministers of great substance and influence, not least because of the example Vung set for them and the counsel he gave to them.

Vung would be the first one to say that he owed his salvation entirely and absolutely to the grace of God and the atonement of Jesus Christ; from beginning to end in all the links of the chain it was God’s gift to him. But I would be among the first to say that he was good enough to be a leader in Christ’s church; more than good enough I would say. The implications of being able to say such a thing are immense. I want us all to face the fact that what Paul says here and very plainly is that some Christian men are good enough for this position and others are not. The implications of that are immensely important.

  1. God marks our progress in the life of faith or our lack of it. It matters to him and he has made it matter to the church and to the world. He holds up before us that requirement that people who do not share our faith and do not love the Lord, still admire our lives because of the way we live them.
  2. There may be no “more or less” in the righteousness of Jesus Christ, but there is very definitely “more or less” in the righteousness of our Christian living in this world. And if we have Christian blood in our veins we will aspire to and strive for the more and never content ourselves with the less!
  3. And when we are young but even much later, we need to guard our lives and our reputations because some things, once lost, are very difficult, if not impossible to regain, not least the reputation of a man or woman who is above reproach. The seriousness of this list consists in some large part in how fragile these virtues are and in how easily a reputation can be ruined.

So Christians take care. The church needs men of this type, true enough. But we learn here as well that every Christian is to become such a man or woman and not rest until he or she has become the kind of Christian who brings credit to Christ and to his church. There is a “best” kind of Christian and all of us are to pray and obey and work until we are the best kind of Christian.