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November 13, 2022 Preacher: Kevin Godin Series: Life In Fellowship

Topic: Leadership Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-13

Sermon Text:

Today we come to the third installment of our 6 week series called Life in Fellowship where we will look at what the Bible says about doing church. Last time we looked at what the Bible says about membership. We saw that membership was designed by God to provide clarity and commitment for the glory of God and the blessing of the church. This week we are going to shift our attention to what the Bible says about leadership in the church. Then In the coming weeks we will look at what the Bible says about 


  • Church Fellowship
  • Church Discipline
  • And Discipleship


This morning, however, we will focus on leadership. It seems to me that most believers don’t spend much time thinking about what the Bible has to say about leadership until something goes wrong. That is unfortunate because there are few things more important to the health of a church and its members than godly leadership and few, if anything, more damaging than ungodly leadership. The key point of the message today is that biblical leadership in the local church is critical for the spiritual growth of believers.


Have you ever noticed that there is no leadership structure established in the New Testament for the universal church at all? That is remarkable when we consider that the Church is an organization that is going to extend throughout history and to every corner of the planet. Of course, Christ is the head of the Church and the foundation is laid in the apostles and prophets, but all of the discussion about the day to day leadership of the church in the Bible is in the context of local congregations. In fact, much of the New Testament is itself instruction given by the apostles to local congregations. God’s plan for church leadership is found in local congregations of believers committed to one another.


God establishes specific offices that have authority and responsibility for those congregations. We have already seen over the past couple of weeks that God intends for leaders and members to have a special relationship. What is remarkable is the simplicity of the leadership structure we find in the Bible. I know that some churches have established all sorts of complex hierarchies but in the New Testament we have something much closer to the model of a family than a nation. In fact, there are really only two special leadership offices, elders and deacons. If you have your Bible please turn with me to 1 Timothy chapter 3. We will look first at the office of the elder or overseer.


The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.


We see right away that there is a formal office called overseer. The word used here is actually the word episcopos, which means bishop. The Episcopol churches are bishop led and the word bishop means overseer. As we read through the New Testament, we see that this same office goes by other names as well. The office is also called pastor which means shepherd, or a presbyter which means elder. This is where presbyterians get their name. Most of the time here we just use the term elder but all of these are used interchangeably in the New Testament and just emphasize different aspects of the role.


For example, in Acts 20 when Paul meets the elders of the church at Ephesus, he calls them elders or presbyters in verse 17 and then in verse 28 he tells them to keep watch over those whom the Holy Spirit has made them episcopos, or bishops to care of or pastor the church. In 1 Peter 5, Peter calls them elders or presbyters in verse 1 and then in verse 2 he tells them to pastor or shepherd the flock over which God has made them overseers or bishops/episcopos. These are all just different descriptions of the same office. In verse 2 of our main passage Paul lays out qualifications for this office.


I should also point out that the New Testament pattern is for there to be multiple elders in each church. Most of the greetings and other references to the office assume a plurality. So, congregations are to be led by a group of men who meet these following qualifications. 


 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 


Elders must have clear evidence in the way they live that they are indeed mature in the faith. Our goal this morning is really just to highlight these offices so we are not going to dig into all the details, but I hope you see that these are men whose lives match their confession of faith. Their walk matches their talk. Paul goes on...


4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?


Not only must the man have evidence of spiritual maturity, he must also have demonstrated wisdom and leadership in his own home. He has to demonstrate leadership within his own home if he is to have credibility as a spiritually mature leader over others.


 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.


Elders have been tested. Our culture worships the young, strong, and energetic but the Christian life is a marathon not a sprint. The wisdom of the old soldier who has seen the tactics of the enemy through many battles is more valuable than youthful enthusiasm in helping us avoid the traps of the enemy


 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.  


Finally, an elder must be respected by those outside of the church. He must have integrity so that the name of Christ is not profaned among unbelievers. The thousands of lives that are turned around, the marriages that are saved, the countless addictions broken, and the many poor who are fed and clothed through the faithful service of Christ’s ministers almost never make the news, but if there is scandal, you can be sure everyone will hear about it. Elders represent the church and must be men of good reputation so that there will not be distractions and so that there is credibility in the ministry of the church. 


We see similar qualifications for elders in Paul’s letter to Titus. What is interesting in both cases, however, is that all of the qualifications except two are mentioned elsewhere in the New Testament as expectations for all Christians. The only two that stand out as unique qualifications for elders are that they are able to teach and are not new converts. 


This is significant because it highlights that the office is primarily distinguished by being a teaching office. Preaching is the proclamation of the word, the ordinances are visualizations of the word, teaching is instruction in the word, counseling and discipline are applications of the word.


This doesn’t mean that an elder must be a Bible scholar, but they must know the word well enough to instruct and correct others. They must know the word and have walked long enough in the faith to apply it in a wide variety of situations. That leads to the second observation. These elders are not rulers in the sense the world understands it. Elders do not lead under their own authority, they are called to apply the authoritative word of Christ in the lives of their brothers and sisters. 


I have two sisters and I am the oldest. When my parents would leave to run errands or whatever, I was responsible for them. Now, I was not their parent. I was a child just like them. I had no authority other than to apply the authority of my parents. As the older brother, I was responsible for helping them obey my parents instructions for their own safety and welfare. The ultimate basis for my authority rested completely on my knowledge of what mom and dad said as did their ability to correct me.


In the same way, elders are sinners saved by grace, but as older brothers they have a responsibility for their brothers and sisters as those who have walked with the Lord and know what he says. That is why Hebrews 13:17 says 


17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.  


Elders are there to protect us, encourage, and give us advice on living as a child of God as older brothers who love us, protect us, and keep us out of trouble.


In verse 8 the apostle introduces qualifications for deacons, which is the second office.


8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.  


The word deacon literally means one who serves. We see several people in the New Testament described as deacons or are said to be deaconing. Because we have these lists of qualifications and we see an example in Acts chapter 6 of how the first deacons were selected, we know that while all believers serve in some way there are those who are especially recognized as servants or deacons within the church.


In many ways, this list is similar to the list for the elders. They must have evidence of their faith in the way they live their lives, they must have been tested, and they must manage their households well. Unlike elders, however, they are not required to be ministers of the word as teachers or preachers. Deacons were responsible for making sure the physical and practical needs of the church were met. You may recall that in Acts chapter 6 the first deacons were responsible for the distribution of food to widows. Other deacons in the bible have other duties. Their work is less defined.


What I think we can say is that the deacons complement the work of the elders by ensuring that the church is properly ministering to the physical and practical needs of the congregation. The work of deacons is therefore much broader than that of elders and this office is also open to both men and women. Paul refers to Phoebe, for example, as a deaconess in the church at Cenchreae.


I have heard people say that elders minister spiritually and deacons minister physically. This is wrong. Both are spiritual ministries. The Bible doesn’t distinguish between the two in that way. James 2:15–16 says, “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” The church is to minister to whole persons, body and mind and both offices are spiritual offices whose work is to love the congregation as Christ does.


These are the two offices of the church in the New Testament. Elders who lead in teaching and discipling and deacons who are leaders who attend to the other needs of the congregation. 


I suspect that many of you probably have heard teaching about these offices before. I suspect you know that we are called to submit to the elders and that they are called to protect us and guide us in the Word. In fact, we have touched on some of this over the past couple messages.


I am moving quickly, however, so that I can spend a bit more time on another aspect of Church leadership that often gets skipped in sermons on leadership. I am talking about the responsibility of the congregation. There is more to it than the official offices. I want to be sure as we prepare to accept members into Redeeming Grace Church that we all understand that a membership commitment comes with responsibilities as well.


In fact, the most fundamental responsibilities are those of the congregation. At least 56% of the New Testament is written to regular church members. Other than the 4 Gospels and Acts, 4 letters from Paul to pastors, 2 John (which could go either way), and the book of Revelation, everything else is addressed to congregations rather than leaders. Have you ever thought about the significance of that?


Think about all of the instructions and admonitions in Romans, the Corinthian letters, Galatians, and those other books. These are all written to the members rather than the leaders. Paul writes to “all those in Rome who are loved by God and called to be saints”, to “the Church of God that is in Corinth”, and to the “churches of Galatia”, you get the idea. 


One of the reasons why congregations should desire preachers and elders who are faithful in teaching the word is because those preachers equip the congregation to fulfil its own responsibilities. Jesus commissions the whole church to make disciples. The pastors are gifts to the congregation to equip members to do this.


It is the congregation that is ultimately responsible for the doctrine of the church. Look at what Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 4:3,

3 For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4 and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths.  


In Galatians 1:8, Paul tells the churches,


8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.  


It is directly to the church members in Colossae that Paul says, 


8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.  


My role as preacher is to equip you to guard the doctrine of the Church. I preach and teach so that you are equipped to disciple one another. Listen, it is all members' responsibility to ensure that bad preaching and false teaching is not tolerated.


It is also the congregation that ultimately determines whose confession of faith is affirmed and who is accepted or rejected into the fellowship. You accept members and it is you who are responsible for excommunicating those who fail to repent. In 1 Corinthians 5:4–5 it is the church that Paul commands to exercise discipline over the sinning member telling them,


4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, 5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.  


Similarly, Jesus instructs us that if a sinning brother refuses to listen to two or three witnesses, we are to tell it to the church.


It is also the members who are able to admit and restore people into fellowship. Look at what Paul says to the congregation about the repentant sinner in 2 Corinthians 2:6–8 

6 For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, 7 so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. 8 So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him.  


Notice that Paul’s forgiveness alone doesn’t restore this brother. Instead, he begs the congregation to forgive him and comfort him. Ultimately, it is the congregation that must restore him. It is the role of the members to affirm one’s testimony of belief and and to accept others into the fellowship. 


The members of the church also play a role in the evaluation and resolution of serious disputes within the body. Look carefully at what happens when the dispute arose about the feeding of the widows in Acts 6:1-6,


6 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  


This was a serious issue that was brought to the Apostles and look at what they did. Although the apostles presided over this meeting, the manner in which the issue was addressed was through the congregation. The members were pleased by the Apostles' plan and the members picked the seven men from among them to serve as deacons.


A short time later in Acts 15 there was another serious dispute about whether Gentiles could join the Church without being circumcised. We can see several indications of the role of members in how this was handled. First, it was the church and not the leaders in Antioch that sent Paul and Barnabas to Jerusalem to resolve the question. They were also received not only by the leaders but also by the church in Jerusalem.


2 And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. 3 So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. 4 When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them.  Acts 15:2–4

The leaders then convened a council of elders to investigate the question and provide an answer. Although the Apostles and elders led the session we learn in Acts 15:12 that the congregation listened to the proceedings.

12 And all the assembly fell silent, and they listened to Barnabas and Paul as they related what signs and wonders God had done through them among the Gentiles.


Then once the issue was settled, we learn in Acts 15:22-23 that the members were involved along with the Apostles in choosing men to go with Paul and Barnabas back to Antioch with a letter. Significantly, this letter is from the Apostles and Elders and is addressed directly to the gentile members of the churches in Antioch, Syria, and Cilicia.


22 Then it seemed good to the apostles and the elders, with the whole church, to choose men from among them and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They sent Judas called Barsabbas, and Silas, leading men among the brothers, 23 with the following letter: “The brothers, both the apostles and the elders, to the brothers who are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia, greetings.  


We could go on, but hopefully the point is clear. Christ alone is the head of the church and His word alone is our ultimate authority. The fully assembled body within a local church has a significant collective responsibility and accountability. It is the congregation rather than any individual leader that has ultimate responsibility for the overall ministry of the church. 


Pastors change but the duties of members cannot be delegated. It is all members' responsibility to ensure that the teaching is true, that Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are properly administered, and that discipleship is not neglected. It is precisely because we have these responsibilities that we should desire godly elders and deacons and submit to them.


Look at what Paul says about the leaders in Ephesians 4:11-12,


11 And he [Christ] 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,  

The leaders and teachers are gifts from Jesus to equip the members for ministry. It is Christians, not just pastors, who are called to ministry. The entire church is to evangelize, disciple and build up the body of Christ. The whole congregation has accountability for what kind of church this is.


Now here is the thing. None of us have earned the right to have this kind of authority in the kingdom of God. In fact, none of us even deserve to be citizens of God’s kingdom at all. Every one of us is a sinner and we rejected God’s rule over our lives. We were born with selfish and corrupt hearts that continually lead us away from God. The biggest of those sins was that we did not serve Jesus Christ as our lord and instead tried to put ourselves on his throne as the king of our lives. Every one of us is guilty of treason against God who created us and the world.


Because the problem comes from the corruption of our own heart, we have no way in our own power of fixing it. Everything we touch is tainted by those selfish motivations. But God is loving and merciful. He sent His own Son Jesus who lived the righteous life we were supposed to live. Then in an act of extraordinary love, Jesus offered himself as payment for the sins of all who put their faith in him. He took that sin upon himself and was tortured and crucified on the cross. He suffered the punishment for sin so that we would not have to and then three days later, he was raised from the dead proving that the price was paid in full. 


As a result, he offers all those who put their faith in him forgiveness of sin, fellowship with God, and a new heart. In Jesus we are changed from being enemies of God to being adopted as his children. Even today, put your faith in Jesus and you receive God as your loving father and have peace with him.


God adopts us into this family of faith where we have brothers and sisters for us to love, teach, and encourage, and we have mature brothers and sisters that love us, encourage us, and strengthen us. 


I want to leave you this morning with the same exhortation the apostle Paul gave to the regular Christians in the church at Colossae.  In Colossians 3:12–17 Paul says,

12 Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  


This is my prayer for us, Amen.

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