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

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

10. The Local Church Leader Will Have a Public AND Private Ministry (continued)

b. Paul pairs hospitality in 1 Timothy 3:2 with “apt to teach” which basically means skilled in teaching. The Greek word is didaktikos, and there is only one other place where it occurs. That is in 2 Timothy 2:24 where we find that the Lord’s servant, speaking specifically of the local church leader, must be “skilled in teaching…instructing those who oppose.” There is, however, a second passage in which we not only find a similar qualification to local church leaders, in Paul’s letter to Titus, but also a description of what being skilled in teaching looks like. In Titus 1:9, Paul writes to Titus that church elders must hold firmly to what they were taught, and be able to instruct and refute those who are teaching error. This is very similar in construction and intention to 2 Timothy 2:24.

Some people, I believe, misread this or mistranslate the Greek word to simply mean, “able to teach.” They take this to imply that an elder simply be able to teach, though not necessarily actively engaged in teaching. However, I think this misses the point for two reasons. The first reason is a grammatical one. Able to teach is actually intended to mean “able teacher,” the difference between the two being obvious. The second reason is historical, for the problem going on in Ephesus was false doctrine. So I can hardly imagine Paul telling Timothy to ordain elders who are simply able to teach but who don’t necessarily actively engage in it when they were false teachers running amok. The simple point here is this: if you were a local church leader, you were to be an able teacher, or a skilled teacher….and you were to be doing it.

Now I would point out to you that this is really the only essential difference here between an elder and a deacon in 1 Timothy 3. There is no reference to a deacon being a skilled teacher. This means that being a skilled teacher is what sets the role of elder apart from deacon, giving it more authority. For the elder is teaching Scripture, which is the thing to which the early church was giving itself in devotion to (Acts 2:42). This was the thing, according to Paul’s famous counsel in 2 Timothy 3:16, that was profitable for instructing, reproving, correcting, and instructing in righteousness. It was the only tool, according to verse 17, that could make the man of God thoroughly equipped to do his job in caring for the local church. So the elder’s qualification of being skilled in teaching is what sets him apart in terms of spiritual authority within the congregation.

One thing I do want to point out is the place of this qualification in the flow of the others. I want you to notice several things that jump out at me personally, and I believe they will serve to sort of tie these qualifications together so that you can see the flow Paul probably intended here.

Notice first that consistency or integrity is required of the man who is skilled in teaching. The man who is skilled in teaching is also a man whose home is filled with deeds and actions of love and care for others who cannot care for themselves. His mouth and his home are a lighthouse. He practices what he preaches. As Richard Baxter, my favorite Puritan pastor, has written, “He that means as he speaks, will surely do as he speaks” (
The Reformed Pastor, p. 63). There is a consistency between what he says about the gospel and how he lives it out from day to day.

Second, notice the discipline that’s required to be a man who’s skilled in teaching. Again, this qualification comes on the heels of the qualifications we just looked at previously on the local church leader’s discipline. The fact that he’s temperate, or watchful and vigilant as we saw, means that he’s always watching out for doctrinal error that is not consistent with Scripture, because bad believing leads to bad living.

And the fact that he’s prudent, or self-disciplined as we saw, is an absolutely necessary foundation for the local church leader to learn how handle the Word of God to begin with. His discipline in study, in the science and art of interpretation (a.k.a. hermeneutics), in application, in theology, in church history, in historical theology, in the biblical languages, etc. are all areas of knowledge in which he must be skilled if he is to be able to properly instruct in sound doctrine and refute false doctrine, as Paul wrote to Titus (in 1:9). However, even if he knows all that, he is still to be skilled in teaching it all. For, as John Calvin wrote in his commentary on 1 Timothy,

“It is not enough to be well-known as a profound teacher if this is not accompanied with skill in teaching. Some people keep their learning to themselves, through a speech impediment or through lack of mental ability or because they are so out of touch with ordinary people. Such people should…go and do something else. People who govern in the church should be able to teach. Paul does not just mean a facility in speaking, as we know how many people have so much to say but edify no one. Rather Paul is commending knowing how to apply God’s Word so that people listening benefit from this” (The Crossway Classic Commentaries: 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, p. 55).

Finally, the fact that he’s respectable, or that he’s a man with an orderly and disciplined life as we saw, means that his lifestyle is the bedrock on which rests his skill in handling the Scriptures. A disorderly man, or a man who is not disciplined in his life structure or schedule, cannot become the kind of skilled man a local church needs when it comes to teaching the Scriptures. You simply cannot put in the time necessary to read, study, learn, and prepare to communicate the Word of God, in season and out of season, when it’s welcome and when it’s not (2 Timothy 4:2 ff.) if your lifestyle is chaotic, unorganized, or disorganized.

In other words, the skill the leader is expected to have in handling and teaching the Word is a skill that is congruent with leading an orderly, disciplined, vigilant lifestyle. If you’re a lazy slug, you’ll never be ready to do battle with the forces of darkness in teaching sound doctrine. You won’t know your stuff, and you’ll get your tail kicked by the demons and the people they use to oppose God. You’ll get smashed in discussions, and those you thought were following you will be persuaded by erroneous arguments, your church will have conflict and probably split, and you’ll fail in your primary mission of Ephesians 4:12-14.

“Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth” (NLT).

In the end, a local church leader will be a man whose doctrine is above reproach. He does not believe in error, though he may be guilty of teaching things that lead people into error, as Paul was in his day. Paul taught the doctrine of scandalous grace, for example. But even though it was a true doctrine, some people misinterpreted it and so they were led into licentiousness, or continuing to sin so that grace may abound, as he clearly wrote against in Romans 6. As a result, many Jewish false teachers used that against him. But this didn’t make Paul a false teacher. Just because somebody takes the truth that you teach and misapplies it, doesn’t mean you’re not a skilled teacher.

The point I’m making here, however, is that if you are skilled in studying the Word, you will also need to be skilled enough in communicating it so that no part of the truth is left out. Again, Paul is a model here, from what we read of in his farewell speech to the Ephesian elders in Acts 20.

"I never shrank back from telling you what you needed to hear, either publicly or in your homes. I have had one message for Jews and Greeks alike—the necessity of repenting from sin and turning to God, and of having faith in our Lord Jesus… I declare today that I have been faithful. If anyone suffers eternal death, it's not my fault, for I didn't shrink from declaring all that God wants you to know… I know that false teachers, like vicious wolves, will come in among you after I leave, not sparing the flock. Even some men from your own group will rise up and distort the truth in order to draw a following. Watch out! Remember the three years I was with you—my constant watch and care over you night and day, and my many tears for you” (Acts 20:20, 21, 25-27, 29, 30, NLT).

This is the model of a man qualified in character and speech to teach the Word of God as a local church leader. I’ll close this second set of qualifications in 1 Timothy with the word of John Calvin again, who believed that, “Teaching cannot be separated from a man any more than a man can be separated from his soul” (ibid).

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