What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part Six

Thursday, May 06, 2010

6. A Church Leader Should Be a Man Who Passionately Stretches Himself Out for the Work of Leading

“This saying is trustworthy:

‘If someone aspires to the office of overseer,
he desires a good work” (1 Tim. 3:1)

There are two extremes with regards to me leading a church. In some church circles, simply having an ability to communicate the Bible well makes you qualified to lead a church. That’s not so, of course. In other church circles, the pendulum swings to the opposite side. If you state that you desire to be a church leader, then you’re viewed with suspicion as selfishly ambitious, and you’re “put on the shelf.”

The problem with the first set of “leaders” is that they are naturally good at speaking, and so there’s no “stretching oneself out” to lead…no hard work, no labor and toil, no blood, sweat and tears. The problem with the second set of leaders is that they have superimposed some presupposed, unbiblical theology of sin on top of what this verse says so that if you want to lead, you’re actually not ready to lead.

Then there are other pockets of churches, different altogether, in that they believe that any person can be a church leader – male or female. Paul deals with all of these issues – for all kinds of churches today – in this section of his letter to Timothy. Let me unpack this briefly.

First, Paul begins in 1 Timothy 3:1 with “a trustworthy saying.” This is second “trustworthy saying” in the Pastoral Epistles. He uses the phrase five times in all (1 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; and Titus 3:8). The function of the phrase seems to be that of calling Timothy’s attention to something crucial and important for his leadership. Most commentators seem certain that the phrase introduces the material that follows, rather than summarizing what came before. But in this case, context rules, and I believe it is a coupling phrase. That is, I believe it is joining together what came before it to what will come after it.

In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, Paul deals with the woman’s place in the local church. The key verse seems to be verses 11-12, where Paul writes, “A woman must learn quietly with all submissiveness. But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man. She must remain quiet.” Having stated his inspired conviction on the gender of local church leadership, Paul then turns to a “trustworthy saying” regarding who it is that leads the church. In short, the local church is lead by men who have aspirations to lead and who passionately desire this good work. One theologian concurs with this view.

“And so the same phrase seems to belong to what goes before in 1Tim. 4:8. Though it regards what follows in 1Tim. 1:15 and so it seems that it should be considered here; and is used to excite attention, and suggests that what was about to be said was of moment and importance, and what was without controversy, and unquestionably true. The apostle, having denied to women the work and office of teaching, proceeds to observe, that though this belonged to men, yet not to every man; and therefore he gives the qualifications of such; which might serve as a direction to churches, in the choice of them; as well as be a means of stirring up persons in such an office, to a proper regard to themselves and their work” (John Gill, 1 Timothy 3:1, E-Sword).

The task of local church leadership is not a chauvinistic or sexist one. Paul simply stated the universal, timeless truth of the matter in 1 Timothy 2:13-14. “For Adam was formed first and then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman, because she was fully deceived, fell into transgression.” This is an issue about roles in the kingdom of God.

This is not a statement that denies equality. Peter teaches us in 1 Peter 3:7 that wives are co-heirs, equal partners, in the grace of life. And later on in 1 Timothy 3, Paul clearly has instructions for the roles that wives of elders and deacons play in the local church. He exalts the high responsibility of teaching they play toward other women in his letter to Titus, in chapter 2. So anyone who would say that Paul was a sexist or chauvinist must ignore first the fact that these are inspired writings, and second ignore the truth that he’s teaching, on which he builds a proper understanding of local church leadership.

When I was presenting this truth one day to a small group over lunch, one woman loudly replied, "The Apostle Paul said that? Well, that's bullshit!" She has a female pastor, of course.
And it seems that neither of them took the passage at face value for what it plainly says. The truth definitely hurts, but it usually hurts people with deep insecurities. I've never met a woman who was secure in her relationship with God who wasn't also secure in a plain reading of 1 Timothy 2:9-15, or any other passages about women in leadership for that matter.

Second, when it comes to the “office” of overseer, or local church leadership, Paul uses two very, very strong Greek words here to communicate to Timothy his thoughts regarding men who desire to lead a church.

The first is oregetai, which means “to stretch out one’s hand toward.” The word is used in other NT passages, like in 1 Timothy 6:10, where it refers to a perverted craving for money. Oregetai is also used in Romans 1:27 to refer to the perverted lustful, sexual impulses present in homosexuality. Then in Hebrews 11:16 it’s used to refer to a deep desiring for heaven as our real home.

Overall, the word simply describes an ambitious drive to seek after something. It could be likened to a treasure hunter, who doesn’t stop until he’s found what he’s looking for. Or perhaps it could be illustrated in the runner whose come up to the finish line and is stretching himself, as runners do, in order to break the finish line tape first. Either way, the word describes a passionate aspiration for something, whether good or bad. And since the context here is something “noble” or “good”, as Paul writes, then the aspiration is also good. In other words, when the thing a person lusts after is good, then the lusting is good. The object determines the godliness or perversion of the passionate desire.

The second word Paul uses is another word for lust, which is epithumein, from the root, epithumia, which simply means “to desire.” The Greek root, epithumia, is used only six times in the NT, and in every case but this one, it’s used with a negative connotation, where one’s desires are wicked and evil. In 1 Timothy 6:9 those who desire to be rich will fall into evil desires. In 2 Timothy 2:22, Paul commands Timothy to flee the lusts that accompany one’s youthful age. In 2 Timothy 3:6, we see weak women in the church whose lusts or desires are used by false teachers to take advantage of them. In 2 Timothy 4:3, Paul tells Timothy of a time coming when people will gather teachers around them to hear what their lusts or desires want to hear. In Titus 2:12 and 3:3, the grace of God has appeared to believers to rescue them from their slavery to their passions. But here in 1 Timothy 3, the word is used in a positive light.

So we have these two words that refer to two different parts of a man who wants to be a church leader. Oregetai refers to the outward or external act of doing what must be done to take hold of the responsibilities of that calling. And epithumein refers to the inward or inner act of a heart that passionately desires to fulfill that calling. John MacArthur writes,

“Taken together, the two terms describe the man who outwardly pursues the ministry because of a driving compulsion on the inside” (1 Timothy, MNTC, pp. 95-96).

MacArthur continues,

“Some men seek spiritual oversight in the church because people they respect have encouraged them to do so. Others pursue it because they have decided the ministry is their best option. They love the Lord and His church, so they attend Bible college or seminary to prepare for service. Because they are not driven by an internal passion for the ministry, however, it can become a mere academic exercise for them.

“On the other hand, some have a great passion for the ministry, but lack self-control and devotion to priorities for preparation. They can’t seem to get their lives disciplined enough to get back on track to achieve their desire.

“The man truly called to the ministry is marked by both an inward consuming passion and a disciplined outward pursuit. For him the ministry is not the best option, it is the only option. There is nothing else he could do with his life that would fulfill him. Accordingly, he works diligently to prepare himself to be qualified for service. While some may be called later in life, from that point on nothing else will do” (ibid).

Patrick Fairbairn, one of my most favorite 19th century pastoral theologians, wrote the following in his book, Pastoral Epistles.

“The seeking here intended, therefore, after such an office, must be of the proper kind, not the prompting of a carnal ambition, but the aspiration of a heart which has itself experienced the grace of God, and which longs to see others coming to participate in the heavenly gift” (p. 136)
(Source: Google Books).

Let me conclude this point by exhorting you, as I was exhorted by one of my fellow leaders this week, that this is something every man in this local church needs to be striving after, for two reasons. First, you should be desiring it and reaching out for it in order to be a leader in this local church. We need leaders! This was undoubtedly why Paul told Timothy to tell his congregation in Ephesus this “trustworthy saying.” Evidently, the men were being hesitant to accept positions of leadership. At least one reason for this was the opponents to Paul and the gospel. To accept leadership means necessarily having to contend with the bozos in the church. Second, you should be desiring and aspiring for it because you need to be developing yourselves in order to plant the next church with us. We want all men to be qualified to be leaders so that they can lead one day in the next phase of advancement in the kingdom.

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