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

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

11. The Local Church Leader Will be a Living-Color Example of Self-Discipline.

a. The local church leader should not be known as a drunkard. Also occurring in Titus 1:7, this same idea is repeated for deacons also. The fact that this qualification appears for both elders and deacons in 1 Timothy 3, and then again in Titus 1:7, as well as in Ephesians 5:18, indicates that drunkenness was a serious problem in the Ephesian church. And what’s even weirder is that the false teachers were not only known for their drinking habits, but were ironically ascetics when it came to food (1 Tim. 4:3). So while being able to hold your liquor was a qualification for being a false teacher, evidently, being able to control yourself with respect to how much you drink in the first place is a qualification for being a local church leader.

In Scripture, drinking is pictured as a good thing (Prov. 31:4-7). In other places it is also viewed as an evil (Prov. 20:1; 21:17; Isa. 5:12; Amos 2:8; 4:1). Drunkenness, though, is always viewed as evi12; Jer. 13:13; 25:17; Ezek. 23:33; Hos. 4:11, 18; Amos 6:6; Compare Matthew 11:19 to Luke 7:34; and Matthew 24:49 with Luke 12:45; Luke 21:34; Acts 2:15; Romans 13:13; 1 Cor. 6:10; 11:21; Gal. 5:21; Eph. 5:18; 1 Thess. 5:7; 1 Pet. 4:3). Isaiah even mocks people whose identity lies in holding their liquor. “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink” (5:22). And if Christians are commanded by Paul in 1 Corinthians 5:11 to not even associate with someone who claims to be a Christian but who is a drunkard, how much more should a local church leader exemplify this command, as well as possess a lifestyle of integrity with regard to alcoholic beverages.

As a whole, the Baptist denomination has come to believe that total abstinence is what the Bible requires. While it is true that the OT purposefully pictures drinking sometimes as a good thing, the NT doesn’t actively portray it as that in terms of teaching. What we do see, however, is a neutral or cultural-contextual use. For example, there’s the wedding at Cana, where Jesus’ first miracle was turning water into wine. Then there’s the parable of the wineskins in Mark 2:22. Jesus and the disciples partook of wine at the Last Supper in Mark 14:23-25. And finally, the Messianic banquet is portrayed as serving wine for us in Luke 22:29-30.

What we must conclude then is that alcoholic beverages are an issue of conscience for the local church leader. He may choose to totally abstain from it because of the abuses of it in their context or community, as perhaps Timothy did (which seems why Paul had to command Timothy to take wine as medicine for his stomach ailment in 1 Tim. 5:3). Or he may choose to partake in it as part of identifying with the culture in order to minister to it and within it (as did Jesus at the wedding of Cana, as well as at the Lord’s Supper). Regardless, it is clear that drunkenness is not an acceptable thing in any way, shape or form. Local church leaders at Church in the Boro, a university city where the college has shaped Statesboro’s reputation as “a drinking town”, may choose to totally abstain or partake. Either view and practice is biblical and acceptable. But an immediate disqualifying event in a local church leader’s life, especially in our town, is drunkenness.

b. The local church leader should not be known as a violent man, but instead as a gentle one. This qualification immediately follows drunkenness because they usually go together. John Calvin noted this when he wrote about the previous disqualifying character trait,

“It is not just unseemly for pastors to drink excessively, as this usually results in worse things such as quarrels, stupid arguments, sexual immorality, and other situations we cannot mention. From the contrast that follows, Paul indicates that he has more than just drunkenness in mind. Just as he compares a violent person with a person who does not fight, and man who craves for money with a man who is not covetous, so he compares ‘the excessive drinker’ with the person who is kind and gentle. Chrysostom correctly says that a man given to drink and violence should be ejected from being bishops” (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, pp. 55-56).

The Greek wording here the phrase, me plekten, which is literally, “not violent.” Again, as with other qualifications in 1 Timothy 3, this one appears in Titus 1:7. Commentators and scholars are not sure whether this word goes with the previous word, or with the word that follows. In other words, the question is whether or not the violence warned against here is joined with the drunkard, or is to be introduced ahead of the contrasting qualification of gentleness. If it goes with the previous word, then drunkenness and brawling are joined together, as if to show that excessive drinking usually leads to fist fighting. The Greek word, plekten, literally means to beat with a fist, so this view seems to fit well with the context. A local church leader cannot be a man who drinks and beats his wife, his children, or other people.

However, perhaps the word is to be taken figuratively, as if to beat somebody with words. This would picture a man who lashes out with his words, who slanders somebody, who outrageously reproaches them, or who wounds them with harmful statements. This would disqualify someone who gets angry and cusses somebody out, or threatens them with hurting words.

It would seem fitting, however, that Paul may intend both. And along with other commentators, I tend to think that the military profession may be in view here, which is all too well-known for commanding officers and sergeants physically hitting those under their command, along with the usual demeaning, screaming, yelling, threatening, repulsive language. John Calvin agrees.

“I believe Paul’s rebuke here is a general one, aimed at the kind of violence common among soldiers, but totally out of place in any of Christ’s servants. Everyone knows how ridiculous it is to be quicker to hit someone or draw a sword on someone than to settle people’s quarrels through exercising the right kind of authority. So violence here refers to men who give out threats and act in a warlike way” (Calvin, p. 56).

Another translation for the Greek word, plekten, is pugnacious. And this definitely describes some military commanders. They respond to something they don’t like with punches and punchlines, with striking and swearing. But,

“A leader in the church must not be one who reacts to difficulty with physical violence. He must not settle disputes with blows. He must react to situations calmly, coolly, and gently (cf. 2 Tim. 2:24-25)” (John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, p. 111).

I can relate to this all too well. There is within my mind many times this martial arts hero, like Jet Li or Jackie Chan, who goes Ju Jitsu on somebody who threatens me. I recall last year going to Savannah with my family. An older gentleman and his friend pulled right out in front of me almost causing an accident. We were driving 55 mph on highway 67 toward I-16 at the time. Because of the speed with which we were going when he pulled out, we had to immediately pull to the left to avoid hitting him, but we came very close to doing that, with the right side of our vehicle, almost hitting the left side of theirs.

The older man driving began yelling and flipping me off, waving furiously at me with his middle finger. He drove fast enough to get right up on my bumper and I could see him in my rear view mirror still yelling and flipping me off. So to avoid trouble, I pulled off to Clyde’s gas station there on the left just before getting to I-16. Well, he decided to pull off with me. That wasn’t smart.

He pulled up next to me and got out of his car and walked over to my truck. I rolled my window down just a tad so I could talk to him. He was so angry I was afraid he might try to hurt me or something. He continued to yell and scream and swear and cuss me out. I saw he was an older gentleman, perhaps just above 50, though he could have been older. He was about 6’3 and probably weighing in at about 250-275 lbs. He was wearing denim overalls with a white long sleeve silk shirt, sporting a white mustache, and silver hair.

I rolled my window down a bit more and he put his finger right in my face, less than an inch away. I responded to his swearing that he was the one who pulled out in front of me, and could have killed my children. To that he responded that, “I don’t give a s - - - about what g- - d - - - m- - - - - - f - - - - - - you got ridin’ with you!” That was it. My blood pressure shot up to near death, I’m sure. I instantly was reminded by the Spirit of 2 Timothy 2:24 and kept repeating it to myself in my mind. “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome….The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome…”

I asked the man to stop swearing in front of my wife and family, and he did it even more. I reached for my seatbelt, unbuckled it, and reached for my door handle. My wife could see my red-soon-to-be-purple face and she knew what that meant and grabbed my arm, and said, “Honey, don’t you get out of this car.” The man saw my actions, so he took a few steps back, unbuttoned his white silk shirt, and began rolling up the sleeves, choosing instead to just take the shirt off altogether, revealing the straps on his denim overalls, and white t-shirt. He then smiled and waved me over, saying, “Come on, you young punk-ass. Come on over and I’ll teach you a lesson.”

I just started laughing my head off, as I recall. It was so fascinating to me that a 250-275 lb senior citizen pulled in front of me and then wanted to fight me…in the parking lot of a gas station. It was clear, at least in my mind, that if I would have stepped out of my truck and took off my shirt, that I would have “gone Jackie Chan on him” and put the old man in the hospital, along with his redneck friend just sitting there in the car watching the whole ordeal. I don’t play. I quit school ‘cause they had recess.

By God’s grace, I spotted an umarked police car filling up. So after I got out, the old man was waving with both hands this time, welcoming me into his circle of pain. I darted over toward the cop, told him what was going on, only to be told that unless there were blows exchanged, he could do nothing. So in my mind, I’m thinking…”Sweet! I can get this old man arrested for being stupid and mean…but I gotta let him hit me first…and then I can knock his dentures out of his head…and then he’ll get in trouble for starting a fight and get arrested for assaulting me.” But by another stroke of God’s grace to me, I walked back to my truck…and he was gone. He had seen the cop, got scared, got back in his car, and pulled up to the gas pump and started filling up.

Long story short, I almost came to blows with an old man who was lashing out at me and my family for something stupid that he did to me! But Jesus says not to return evil for evil. Servants of the Lord, and especially local church leaders, don’t get in fistfights just because someone made them mad or got them angry. They don’t respond with fists of fury, with threats, and with gang violence. They respond with grace. They turn the other cheek to the same person who just punched the first cheek. They love their enemies and pray for those who hurt them. That’s how the local church leader exemplifies the life and mind of Jesus Christ, the Chief Shepherd.

When we look at the Savior we see a gentle and meek Savior. He told us in Matthew 11:28-29 that He’s meek and lowly in heart. Meekness is not weakness, but ironically it’s just the opposite. It’s power under control. Jesus had the power to call down thousands upon thousands of angels on those who arrested Him that night while He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. But He didn’t. And He had the power to do the same while He was being murdered upon the cross. But He didn’t. He stayed there.

That’s because GOD’S power is manifested through weakness, through gentleness. Man’s power is manifested in fistfighting, violence, guns, swords, knives, etc. But that only leads to death and pain. The Christian, however, is interested in healing and life. So he does nothing to someone else that causes the very thing he’s trying to stop. He fights violence with gentleness, activism with passivism. He realizes that the very power and glory of God Almighty was reflected on the cross when Jesus was being murdered. And the local church leader seeks to exemplify the same thing to those who would do the same thing to him. Gentleness is the only way of the Savior. And it’s the only way of the local church leader.

c. The local church leader should not be known as a contentious man, who loves to fight whether it’s a verbal argument or a fist fight. The Greek word here is, amachos, which is very strong term in the Greek meaning to actively quarrel and bicker, and sometimes physical combat (Mounce, The Pastoral Epistles, p. 176). This same word is used in James 4 where the pastor of that local church is teaching his people about the internal fighting that is caused by a person wanting something so very passionately, but not getting it (4:1-2).

This one feature more characterizes false teachers and opponents in the local church than anything else. You can usually identify a guy who is not qualified to lead a local church, but thinks he is by the fact that he argues and picks verbal fights with people He’s usually the philosopher who’s got it all figured out, and who’s got a counter-argument for everything that comes out of your mouth. He fancies himself a contender for the truth, but he actually destroys it by the way he talks and argues and quarrels with people. He’s usually the guy whose got some theological or personal axe to grind with someone…usually the guy leading the church. And so the contentious man creates disunity and disharmony in the local church, as he tries to argue with leadership and with others who support the leadership, thereby hoping to gather another group around him in the name of truth and Scripture and holiness. If a guy like this ever gets on our leadership team, the rest of us will kick him off so fast he won’t know what hit him. We simply cannot put up with a man like this because he threatens the very thing he is biblical mandated to create and foster in the local church, and that’s unity.

Paul spends a good deal of time helping Timothy discover what this looks like within the context of the Ephesian church. We see that Timothy may not have been exemplifying this the character trait of being peaceable because Paul had to write a second time to Timothy and in it spent a good amount of space dealing with the issue.

“Remind people of these things and solemnly charge them before the Lord not to wrangle over words. This is of no benefit; it just brings ruin on those who listen. Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately. But avoid profane chatter, because those occupied with it will stray further and further into ungodliness, and their message will spread its infection like gangrene…But reject foolish and ignorant controversies, because you know they breed infighting. And the Lord’s slave must not engage in heated disputes, but be kind toward all, an apt teacher, patient, correcting opponents with gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:14-17, 23-25, The NET Bible).

This is perhaps the single hardest lesson for a young local church leader to learn. I can attest that this has been perhaps the single greatest challenge for me as a young man. There is a great temptation to feel the cause of truth so great that I end up actually arguing against it by the very way I am trying to argue for it! It is so easy to get entangled in debates, heated arguments, quarreling over things that are really neither here nor there. It’s all pointless. And the one who realizes that first wins, and exhibits the character needed to lead a local church.

I recall hearing a story many years ago about a public debate being held between a Christian and a Hindu. I can’t recall where I heard it, but it made a deep impact on my heart at the time. For I was involved in some of the darkest years of my entire life with a family member who would not repent. Time after time I had been entangled in conversations that led to angry arguments from those I was trying to convince to repent. Those were some of the saddest years in my life.

But the story I recalled gave me great hope within about my own attitude toward the situation. While the Christian and Hindu were debating, thousands were watching and listening. Afterwards, one man asked another man who he thought won the debate. His answer was telling. He said, “I knew who won the debate when the other side was the first to get angry.” How true that is of Christians so many times. WE are often the first to become angry, contentious, and quarrelsome when something doesn’t go our way, when we’re offended or opposed or threatened. Yet it must not be so for the man who wants to lead a local church. He must reflect Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

d. The local church leader should not be known as a man who loves money. The Greek word here is, aphilapguron, which literally is translated, “not a lover of money.” The same qualification is repeated for deacons in 3:8, which means that, like drunkenness, this was a problem in the Ephesian church. And it has never been otherwise, for drunkenness and greed have always gone together. Sex, money, and power have been the triad of trouble since the beginning of time, and the local church is a perfect opportunity for the devil and his demons to send some of their servants there for some destructive fun.

One of the most significant and obvious ways that the false teachers of Ephesus were identifiable was that they taught for money, and not for the sake of the gospel. When you teach for the biblical gospel, enough of it rubs off on you to convince you that charging to preach and teach it is absolutely asinine. But if you’re a false teacher, then you don’t care whether or not your gospel is biblical, and you therefore don’t care about the financial implications. You have no problem charging people to tell them error. This is of course, simply lying to people. And it involves hypocrisy too, since you’re claiming to be a teacher of the gospel, but you’re teaching things and doing things that are contradictory to the gospel.

Paul was clear to Timothy in chapter 6 about this problem.

“Teach them and exhort them about these things. If someone spreads false teachings and does not agree with sounds words (that is, those of our Lord Jesus Christ) and with the teaching that accords with godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing, but has an unhealthy interest in controversies and verbal disputes. This gives rise to envy, dissension, slanders, evil suspicions, and constant bickering by people corrupted in their minds and deprived of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a way of making a profit. Now godliness combined with contentment brings great profit. For we have brought nothing into this world and so we cannot take a single thing out either. But if we have food and shelter, we will be satisfied with that. Those who long to be rich, however, stumble into temptation and a trap and many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all evils. Some people in reaching for it have strayed from the faith and stabbed themselves with many pains” (6:2-10, The NET Bible).

The reason this was so significant for Timothy to get wired into his DNA is that he would be involved in handling the money of the local church. As an overseer, he would be involved in the finances of the congregation, as was the practice since the beginning (Acts 4:34-37). He had to do everything in his power then to ensure that he would not be blamed for any lack of integrity. The only way to do this then, was to avoid any love of money in his heart. This meant living like it. Which in turn meant learning to be content with whatever food and clothing God had provided him. Contentment is the greatest weapon against greed, as well as against any charges of preaching the gospel for greed. Timothy would have a church with many people who were pursuing get-rich-quick schemes, including the use of the gospel. But he was not to succumb to it at all. John Calvin has written some very wise words regarding this problem.

“Lovers of money are covetous people. All covetousness is tainted with the evil characteristic that the apostle touches on here. Juvenal has said, ‘The man who desire to be rich wants to be rich quickly.’ This results in all greedy people giving all their energy to acquiring wealth dishonestly and unlawfully, even if there is little evidence to show this. Paul contrasts contempt for money with this vice, as this is the only way to control it. I say again, a person who will not willingly and patiently bear poverty will inevitably become mean and covetous” (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus, p. 56).

This was the very public and very obvious manner in which Paul lived and exemplified the Christian life to the Ephesian church while he was there for three years planting it. What’s so amazing is that they can hear his testimony, but act so opposite to what they saw. He reminded them,

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…. "I have never coveted anyone's silver or gold or fine clothes. You know that these hands of mine have worked to supply my own needs and even the needs of those who were with me. And I have been a constant example of how you can help those in need by working hard. You should remember the words of the Lord Jesus: 'It is more blessed to give than to receive'" (20:29-31, 34-35, NLT).

If you want to be a local church leader at Church in the Boro, you will be entrusted with handling the finances of the church. If it turns out you are a greedy or covetous person and we missed it before, it will show up when you get your hands on the church’s money. I guarantee it. It always does. The checkbook register is a great reflection of what you think about money as a local church leader. You may have hidden it well at home in your personal finances. But you can’t hide it when you’re dealing with someone else’s. Because then the “gig is up.”

A local church leader must absolutely be completely beyond and above all reproach in this area. It has stained almost as many pastors as sexual immorality has. And my experience has been that where one is occurring, generally the other is as well. If you want to lead here, you must be an example of the counsel we see given to all Christians in Hebrews 13:5.

“Don't love money; be satisfied with what you have. For God has said,

‘I will never fail you.
I will never abandon you.

So we can say with confidence,

‘The LORD is my helper,
so I will have no fear.
What can mere people do to me?’

“Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith” (13:5-7, NLT).

I was reading through the Didache, not too long ago, trying to understand what the 2nd century Christians would have thought about apostles and the charismatic gifts. I came across a statement that was rather shocking, but also very helpful in determining immediately whether a minister was true or false prophet. There was a saying then that is translated this way:

“Whosoever, therefore, comes and teaches you all these things that have been said before, receive him. But if the teacher himself turns and teaches another doctrine to the destruction of this, hear him not. But if he teaches so as to increase righteousness and the knowledge of the Lord, receive him as the Lord. But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there's a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet… Therefore from their ways shall the false prophet and the prophet be known” (Didache, Chapter 11).

Summarizing all the negative traits we’ve seen in this section on The Leader’s Self-Control, it becomes obvious that this man is someone who is in constant need and therefore, (hopefully) in constant possession of the fullness of the Holy Spirit. The opposites of these negatives are only a fruit of the Spirit: peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control. Local church leaders must be filled with the Spirit and/or pursuing it at all times, since the future of the mission depends on it. In the end,

“Christian leaders who possessed these outward traits gave evidence that they had inner control and commitment to Christ. Such traits would be mandatory in meeting, opposing, and defeating the rampant, controversial false teaching of Ephesus” (Lea & Griffin, The New American Commentary: 1, 2 Timothy and Titus, p. 111).

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