• Do You Qualify for Congregational Responsibility?

    HOW do you feel about responsibility? In the world today many men shirk it or avoid it because it brings duties and obligations. Others ambitiously seek responsibility, hoping thereby to gain prominence, power and control over others and to grant themselves special privileges.

    In the Christian congregation there is no room for either of these attitudes. ( Matt. 20:25-27; 1 Pet. 5:2, 3 ) Yet there is a need for men who are willing to take on responsibility. These must have a very different attitude toward responsibility than do so many worldly persons. They should ‘reach out’ for responsibility, yes, but motivated by a desire to be of service to others​—primarily to God and then to their neighbor, particularly those in the congregation. They rightly seek to bring honor to God and make his name prominent and respected​—not their own.​—1 Tim. 3:1; Gal. 6:10; Prov. 8:13 .

    In the early Christian congregations of the first century, men were appointed to positions of responsibility either as “elders” (Greek, pre·sbyʹte·roi ) or as “ministerial servants” (di·aʹko·noi ). (Titus 1:5; Phil. 1:1 ) Elders were to exercise oversight of the congregation in a spiritual way, serving as ‘shepherds’ of God’s flock. (Acts 20:28 ) Ministerial servants assisted them, caring for “necessary business” that did not so directly involve spiritual oversight.​— Acts 6:1-6 .

    Whether serving as an elder or a ministerial servant, these men should be like God’s Son who accepted the heaviest responsibility any man has ever borne, yet who came ‘not to be served, but to serve.’ (Mark 10:45 ) Their proper attitude might be compared to a man who, on meeting someone trying to find a certain place, says, ‘Let me show you how to get there.’ Or like one who, seeing another carrying heavy burdens, says, ‘Let me help you with your load.’ Do you have that spirit?


    Desire to serve, however, is not all that is required. God’s Word also sets out certain qualifications that must be met by those who serve as elders or ministerial servants. Consider these now, and as you do, ask yourself whether you would qualify for such congregational responsibility. And think of these qualifications in their proper setting​—as recorded initially for Christians in the first century of the Common Era. This will avoid any inclination to view them from worldly standards, including those prevailing in today’s business world.

    Certain basic requirements apply to elders and to ministerial servants alike. Among these are that such men be:

    Free from accusation. They should be “irreprehensible,” that is, not subject to any genuine accusation of wrongdoing. (1 Tim. 3:2, 8, 10; Titus 1:6, 7 ) This, of course, does not require absolute perfection on their part. If it did, no human descended from the sinner Adam could possibly qualify. (Jas. 3:2; 1 John 1:8 ) But no charge of any weight should be involved. And if there were any charge, it certainly would have to conform to Scriptural standards of right and wrong, not mere worldly standards, which are so often perverted. (1 Tim. 6:14; Col. 1:22 ) If some past wrong of a serious nature was committed, the man must have since lived down any reproach resulting and made a good name for himself by his fine conduct. Thus the appointment will bring no reproach on the congregation in the eyes of God or of the world.

    Husband of one wife. If a married man, he must have only one living wife, hence not be a polygamist as were many non-Christian men in the first century.​— 1 Tim. 3:2, 12; Titus 1:6 .

    Not a drunken brawler. He should not be one who overindulges in alcoholic beverages, losing control of his thinking and emotions. In fact, as shown by the requirements for ministerial servants, he would not even be ‘given to a lot of wine,’ hence not one with the reputation of being a “heavy drinker” (The Jerusalem Bible).​— 1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 4:3 .

    Not a lover of money, not greedy of dishonest gain. Since greedy persons are Scripturally classed along with fornicators, idolaters and drunkards, a materialistic person would certainly not qualify for responsibility in the congregation. (1 Cor. 5:11; 1 Tim. 6:9, 10; Heb. 13:5 ) Those qualifying shun all “dishonest gain.” (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Titus 1:7; 1 Pet. 5:2 ) The term “dishonest” applies not just to such practices as cheating, fraud or so-called “sharp” methods typical of a corrupt world. The Greek word so rendered has the basic meaning of “disgraceful” and may also be translated “shameful” (Revised Standard Version ), “base” (An American Translation ), “sordid” (New American Standard Bible ). Similarly, though the Greek word for “gain” may refer to monetary or material gain or “profits,” as in commercial transactions (Jas. 4:13 ), it is by no means limited to that. It refers to any kind of profit, gain or advantage. (Compare

    Philippians 1:21; 3:4-8 .) So, if any man were to use a position of responsibility in God’s congregation either to favor himself over others with personal material benefits or to gain advantage over others by power, prestige or prominence, this, too, would be ‘shameful gain.’ He would not be acting honestly toward the heavenly Owner of the flock who assigned him to serve unselfishly, humbly.​—Compare 1 Peter 5:2, 3; Acts 20:33-35; Luke 16:14 .

    Presiding over his own household in a fine manner, having children in subjection.

    Neither ministerial servants nor elders should be mere lads but should be men old enough to have children. If married, the man should earn respect as a good husband and father, one presiding according to Bible principles. (1 Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; Titus 1:6 ) Does this require that he have absolute success with every family member as regards their response to godly principles?

    He would work toward that goal, of course, yet​—despite his fine efforts—​this may not be the result. Some circumstances go beyond human ability to control. A man’s wife may not be a believing Christian; she may even oppose or persecute him for his faith. (Matt. 10:36; Luke 12:52 ) Or, from among his children there may be one who slips and commits some immoral act, or who even proves to be a ‘bad apple’ among the bunch. We should note, however, that even some of God’s own spirit sons proved rebellious, as did his first two human children. Yet their actions could in no way be charged to any fault or delinquency on God’s part.

    Therefore, if a family member of a Christian husband or father becomes involved in wrongdoing, the important question is: To what extent does the man of the house bear responsibility for this? Was he delinquent in his duties? If so, he would not have the respect of the congregation or those on the outside. On the other hand, if he had done all that reasonably could be expected, in fact, having good success with other family members, the failure of one member to respond to his fine direction would not automatically disqualify him.

    Not newly converted. For either position, elder or ministerial servant, he should have been “tested as to fitness” first, demonstrating his reliability and devotion. (1 Tim. 3:6, 10 ) This takes time. And, as a rule, more time would be required in the case of an elder than of a ministerial servant, as the very term “elder” would imply. Individuals vary and their rate of spiritual progress varies, however. Therefore no specified time is set forth, but those recommending such a one must exercise good judgment and not be hasty in pushing a new one ahead, “for fear that he might get puffed up with pride” like the Devil. Let him first develop the “mental attitude” of Christ​—one of humility.​— Phil. 2:3-8 .

    Certain other requirements are listed specifically for ministerial servants. Yet it goes almost without saying that these should also be fulfilled for those qualifying for positions as elders. Among these requirements are that the man be:

    Serious. Other translations of 1 Timothy 3:8 use such expressions as “dignified,” “men of dignity,” “respectable men,” “men of high principle,” and these are also acceptable meanings of the Greek word used by the apostle. So, while occasional humor is not out of place, none of these men would be constantly ‘clownish’; nor would they be men inclined to take responsibility lightly.

    Not double-tongued. Hence, straightforward and truthful, men “whose word can be trusted,” not hypocritical, gossipy or devious.​— 1 Tim. 3:8 , New American Bible; Jerusalem Bible; An American Translation.

    With a clean conscience. Before God, his conscience should bear witness that he is not a person who makes a practice of what is underhanded, unclean or defiling, even though these practices are not publicly known. (1 Tim. 3:9; Rom. 9:1; 2 Cor. 1:12; 4:2; 7:1 ) Unless he himself conscientiously adheres to and upholds right principles, he surely could not qualify to serve God’s flock in a responsible way.​—Matt. 23:3 .

    Besides these requirements, basic to both elders and ministerial servants, there are others referring particularly to the elders. Their assigned work as shepherds and teachers is reflected in these requirements that highlight the ability to give kind, helpful, but firm, guidance and direction to God’s “sheep.” They include being:

    Moderate in habits; self-controlled. One qualifying as an elder should have his mental and physical powers under due control so that he does not go to foolish extremes, nor act in an erratic, unbalanced manner. Hence, he is able to conduct himself in a sober, clear-minded way.​— 1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 4:5; Titus 1:8 .

    Sound in mind. The elder should be a sensible person; his speech and actions being rational and purposeful. His balanced thinking and outlook would be built up by the healthful teachings of God’s Word.​— 1 Tim. 3:2; Rom. 12:3 ; compare Mark 5:15; Acts 26:25; 2 Corinthians 5:13 .

    Orderly. The Greek term used here (1 Timothy 3:2 ) is the same word translated “well-arranged” at 1 Timothy 2:9 (New World Translation ). So an elder should have an orderly, respectable pattern of life, being a man of ‘courteous behavior,’ hence ‘not ill-mannered,’ as other renderings of the Greek term show. (Compare 1 Corinthians 14:33, 40 ; the Greek words there, however, being of a different source.) While certainly no one should disregard or downgrade punctuality to the point of being inconsiderate or discourteous, it may be kept in mind that the Christian congregation in the apostle’s day did not make a major issue of exact precision in time, as does the modern business world. Record keeping was also doubtless at a minimum in their day. To be an effective shepherd of the flock an elder is not Scripturally required to be an expert

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