What is the Character of a Gospel-Driven Leader? Part TenMonday, May 10, 2010
10. The Local Church Leader Will Have a Private AND Public Ministry.
After having been in church leadership for over twenty years now, I’ve personally encountered so many examples of young men, and even older men, who desire to enter into a vocational, full-time ministry of the Word if for no other reason than it fulfills their desire to want to stand up in front of people and talk. Proverbs teaches that fools delight in airing their own opinions, and in pulpits around the world there seems to be no shortage of men (and women) who desire to teach and preach their own opinions to people. There’s no place for men like this in leadership positions of a local church. The role and responsibilities are for those who are above reproach with regard to their desires.
During the same twenty plus years, there has been one distinguishing feature, however, by which to tell whether or not a man’s desire to lead a local church is in fact above reproach. That feature is his home and what he does with it. For many local church leaders, the home is a place to hide away from the demands and pressures of a needy congregation, not to mention a needy and dying world. The man who got into local church ministry because he was lazy and because he likes to be heard airing his own opinions, is also generally the man who uses his home as a cave to hide from other people.
But the man who desires to use his home as a lighthouse for the hurting and needy, is generally the man whose desire to teach and preach is genuine, authentic, and filled with the sort of compassion that is necessary when leading any group of people. In other words, when you see a local church leader loves the public ministry of the word, you can generally know that his motives for so doing are pure when you see a private ministry of the home. I don’t know for sure whether or not this is what Paul intended to convey when pairing these two concepts together. But the application that comes from pairing them together is a needful one to communicate to a local church who wants to know what kind of man should be leading a local church. I’ll unfold each of these one at a time with a closer look.
a. Hospitality has the root word “hospital,” which is a building that houses and cares for urgently sick people. The concept of a hospital, as well as a hospice, developed from the biblical concept of hospitality.
However, this word has been radically redefined in our culture today. It has largely come to refer to simply having people over to your house to eat or hang out. The Greek word is philoxenos, and it is a compound word joined by two concepts.
The first is philos, and it’s pretty obvious what that means: to be friendly toward, to love. It is one of the two kinds of love we see in the Bible: agapao or agape, phileo or philo. The third type of love in the Greek language is eros, which is sexual love. We don’t see that in the Bible. Philos is the word for “brotherly love,” and from it we get names like Philadelphia, which means the city of brotherly love.
The other concept built into the compound Greek word philoxenos, is the word xenos, meaning stranger, foreigner, alien, immigrant, a person we don’t know or have not heard of before.
Joined together, this word means to be fond of strangers, to be a friend to foreigners or people we don’t know. And what a change this is from the way we have come to redefine it and understand it today! This is quite a task, isn’t it? To be fond of people you don’t even know? Yet, “this was a trait highly esteemed by both the early church…and ancient society” (Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 173). Paul uses this qualification for a local church leader not only here with Timothy, but also with Titus at his church in Crete (1:8).
Now I do want to clear up an understanding of the first century meaning of the word. When I say “strangers”, generally speaking it was Christian or believing strangers that are being referred to here. In that day and time, when the mission was in full force, both in Jesus’ day and in the early church, travelling was all done by foot. And though there were inns and motels, and that sort of thing, even those were in homes, sort of like our bed and breakfast inns today. And in many of those house-inns, brothels and other notorious businesses were being operated out of the homes. So that was simply a pay-for-hospitality with some extra’s thrown in…if you know what I mean…sort of business going on.
In Christianity, though, it was assumed that you would gladly welcome in other believers, not only because they would otherwise have to stay in motels and bed and breakfast inns, but also because they couldn’t afford them anyway! To the early church it was unthinkable that if you were travelling through town for the ministry of the gospel that you’d stay anywhere else but in someone else’s home.
In addition, persecution was rampant during this time, and if you did stay in an inn, you’d be risking public exposure to being reported, captured, kidnapped, or arrested. So it was always smarter to stay with people you could trust anyway.
Also, widows and orphans were a huge priority of the local church in that day. So where else did they come to live and be cared for than in homes. A major way of practicing hospitality in that day then, was to house these sorts of people who could not possibly care for themselves otherwise.
But notice I said earlier that generally speaking, hospitality was kindness and friendship being shown to believing strangers. There are significant exceptions to that statement which even call into question the word, generally. For example, in Luke 14:12 and following, Jesus instructs His followers with this teaching on hospitality to all kinds of people, and not just our friends.
“Then he turned to his host. ‘When you put on a luncheon or a banquet,’ he said, ‘don't invite your friends, brothers, relatives, and rich neighbors. For they will invite you back, and that will be your only reward. Instead, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind. Then at the resurrection of the righteous, God will reward you for inviting those who could not repay you’” (Luke 14:12-14, NLT)
That doesn’t sound like believing strangers only, does it? I don’t believe it actually can only refer to believers. And here’s why. Because at the last judgment, believers are going to be separated and distinguished from the unbelievers based on how they treated others less fortunate. In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in Matthew 25, here’s what Jesus teaches.
"But when the Son of Man* comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. All the nations* will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.
"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.'
"Then these righteous ones will reply, 'Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?'
"And the King will say, 'I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters,* you were doing it to me!'" (25:34-40, NLT).
The feeding of the hungry, the giving of drink to the thirsty, the clothing of the naked, the caring for the sick are all activities done in the home. The only one mentioned that isn’t taking place in the home is the visiting of prisoners.
Some scholars would argue over whether the phrase “my brothers and sisters” is referring to the people Jesus is speaking to, or the people He is speaking about. I believe Jesus is referring to the believers He’s talking to, and the phrase “the least of these” is being used to refer to the people Jesus is talking about. The language makes complete sense that way. One more example which seems to confirm this understanding is the Parable of the Good Samaritan.
“‘A Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem down to Jericho, and he was attacked by bandits. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him up, and left him half dead beside the road.
‘By chance a priest came along. But when he saw the man lying there, he crossed to the other side of the road and passed him by. A Temple assistant* walked over and looked at him lying there, but he also passed by on the other side.
‘Then a despised Samaritan came along, and when he saw the man, he felt compassion for him. Going over to him, the Samaritan soothed his wounds with olive oil and wine and bandaged them. Then he put the man on his own donkey and took him to an inn, where he took care of him. The next day he handed the innkeeper two silver coins,* telling him, “Take care of this man. If his bill runs higher than this, I'll pay you the next time I'm here.”
‘Now which of these three would you say was a neighbor to the man who was attacked by bandits?’ Jesus asked.”
“The man replied, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’
“Then Jesus said, ‘Yes, now go and do the same’” (Luke 10:30-37, NLT).
In this story hospitality is happening big time. Only, in this story there’s two interesting features. First, Jesus purposefully turns things backwards for His Jewish audience, because in the story, the Jewish man is hurt and the Samaritan man (whom Jews hated passionately) is doing the caring. That was life-changing, ego-impacting, mind-altering teaching for Jew, who was thinking they would never be someone who would receive help from a Samaritan.
Then, there’s the other interesting feature here of a Samaritan turning to a hospital of sorts to care for him and offer the hurt Jewish man hospitality. He wasn’t able to take him to his own him because there was probably no medical care at his house. So He took him to an innkeeper who would have operated somewhat like an urgent care facility, perhaps.
Now my point here is this: Hospitality is about being a friend who is fond of strangers, whether they are believers or unbelievers. And the Bible teaches that this is something ALL Christians are to excel at, and local church leaders are to be exemplary at…beyond all reproach. Consider the support for this belief in the only other two passages in the Bible where the same Greek word, philoxenos, is used.
“Don't just pretend to love others. Really love them…When God's people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality” (Romans 12:9a, 13, NLT).
This was written to the Christians at the church in Rome. And how applicable this first verse is for us today. For it is all too common to be nice to strangers on the outside, but be fearful on the inside…even if the strangers are other believers! How weird is that?! If the average Christian in America face the challenge of housing another Christian, they’d act all weird and strange and fearful. But Paul says here that Christians are always to be ready to help them. And not only that, but they’re to “be eager to practice hospitality.” That means they were to be pursuing it always.
“ ‘Practice’ means ‘pursue’ or ‘chase’ and sometimes means ‘strenuous pursuit.’ Christians, and especially leaders, are not simply to wait for opportunities for hospitality but are to pursue them” (Kent Hughes, 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, p. 79).
The other text where we have used the Greek word for hospitality, is 1 Peter 4:9, which teaches all Christians,
“The end of the world is coming soon. Therefore, be earnest and disciplined in your prayers. Most important of all, continue to show deep love for each other, for love covers a multitude of sins. Cheerfully share your home with those who need a meal or a place to stay” (NLT).
The “those” to whom Peter referred to here necessarily includes those to whom Jesus referred in the first passage I referred to above in Luke 14…and those to whom Jesus referred to in the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25. It would include strangers, and not just believers, and definitely not just our friends. Notice that Peter conjoins the idea of hospitality here with eschatology, or the teaching of the future. The fact that the world is going to end soon should motivate fervent love for one another, which is shown primarily in sharing our homes with those who need a meal or a bed…or just a home in which to live and be loved and be cared for. Certainly it would most definitely, however, include God’s people too. For Paul was clear in Galatians 6:9-10,
“So let's not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don't give up. Therefore, whenever we have the opportunity, we should do good to everyone—especially to those in the family of faith” (NLT).
Now as this relates to a man who wants to be or is now a local church leader, the bottom line is this. You simply cannot be fearful or hesitant in the slightest degree in exemplifying hospitality. And why is that? Because the very essence of hospitality is the very essence of the gospel. And for local church leaders, they must exemplify that the gospel is not just about words of preaching and teaching, but it is about deeds of lifestyle and love.
The very message of the gospel is about helping those who cannot help themselves. To be negligent in practicing and pursuing and chasing opportunities for hospitality is to be negligent in preaching the gospel…just as much as it would be if you didn’t pursue opportunities to preach and teach it with words. That’s why I believe Paul may have put these two qualifications together: showing hospitality, and apt to teach. To run your mouth about the gospel but have it be absent in your home is not beyond or above reproach. It is a glaring contradiction when it comes to the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’ll close on this point with John MacArthur’s words.
“The door of the Christian home, as well as the heart of the Christian family, ought to be open to all who come in need. That is especially true of the overseer. Elders are not elevated to a place where they are unapproachable. They are to be available. A pastor’s life and home are to be open so that his true character is manifest to all who come there, friend or stranger” (1 Timothy, p. 108).
Next, I'll spend a few minutes unpacking what Paul means by "apt to teach."