A Pastor's Home, Maturity, and Testimony
Passage: 1 Timothy 3:4-7
This morning, we are going to wrap up our study of this paragraph. This study has been a good reminder for me because it is very easy to only be concerned with the externals of ministry—how many people are here, how big the offering was, how many people are getting saved, and how people respond to the sermon. All of those things are very important, but I better never think that they can replace being the kind of man God wants me to be and living the kind of disciplined Christian life that he requires. If I lack godliness, the outer shell of my ministry may look impressive, but the foundation is compromised and ready to crumble. The same is true for you. You can have a slick career, a beautiful home, beautiful kids, and never miss a church service. You can look like the model Christian with the model family, but if you are neglecting your walk with Christ, personal discipline, and the foundational priorities this passage describes, that picture of perfection is hanging by a thread and could come crashing down very suddenly. And so when we started into this paragraph on pastoral qualifications, you may have thought that you were off the hook for a few weeks, but it contains invaluable lessons for all of us, not just pastors.
Last week, we studied vv. 2–3 where Paul lists without explanation twelve requirements for pastors. But he slows down significantly in vv. 4–7. After listing 12 qualifications in 2 verses, he gives 3 qualifications in 4 verses. This probably was because they needed special emphasis in Ephesus. Men were being elevated into leadership who lacked these foundational qualifications, and they were doing great harm to the church and to its testimony in the community. Therefore, along with each of these final qualifications, Paul adds an explanation for why they are necessary.
Verses 4 –5 tell us that a pastor must be…
A Good Manager (vv. 4–5):
The Requirement: He must rule his home well.
Paul is talking about the pastor’s family—his wife and his children. He is not saying that a pastor must be married and have children because Paul was not married and didn’t have children. And in 1 Corinthians 7, he argues that there can be tremendous benefits for ministry in hard places if a man does not have a family. But Paul assumes that the vast majority of pastors will be married and have children.
And they must rule well in this context. Paul assumes that the husband and father is the head of the home. He is ultimately responsible to manage his home. Now 5:14 says that the wife is also responsible, but ultimate responsibility still lies with the husband. Yet sadly man husbands leave a tremendous leadership void in their family. They are passive and apathetic when they need to take charge. They don’t lead in being financially responsible, and they don’t take charge of the discipline and discipleship of their children. In general the wife is the spiritual initiator. When there is conflict or hard decisions need to be made, the husband does not step up, and he forces his wife to make and communicate hard decisions with little support. We saw in chapter 2 that men have been doing this since Genesis 3. Men, God has called you to lead, and you are responsible to show initiative and to make hard decisions. Don’t leave a vacuum that your wife feels forced to fill.
Husbands must rule in the home. But to be clear this ruling does not mean sitting on the couch with your feet up while your wife and children massage your feet and keep your glass full. Paul clarifies what he means by rule in v. 5 when he describes ruling as involving care or protection. Interestingly, this verb is only used one other time in the NT. Jesus used it to describe the care the Good Samaritan gave to the injured man. Therefore, the requirement to rule is a requirement to lead in caring for and protecting the family. It is servant-leadership, not selfish leadership.
In this context, Paul is particularly concerned with a man’s leadership of his children. Specifically, he says that they must be in submission. In other words they respect and obey him. They aren’t running wild or defying his authority. Rather, God says that a pastor must have an orderly home. There must be clearly defined rules for establishing order, and a pastor and his wife must their children to those lines. This requirement reflects the consistent teaching of Scripture that parents are to discipline their children, and children are to obey them. Parents, keeping your kids in submission is not optional. Proverbs says that to not do so is to hate your child. It’s very easy to get lazy in parenting. Kids have a way of continually pushing against certain boundaries, and eventually wearing you down. Or when they are cranky, it’s easier to pacify a child than to hold the line and develop character. Parents don’t get lazy; rather, stay disciplined in keeping your children in submission.
Paul adds as well that parents must do so while maintaining a sense of “reverence” or “dignity.” This phrase describes how the pastor rules not how the children submit. It’s very important because it’s possible to maintain order but in a way that lacks dignity. A father can rule through anger and intimidation. Maybe he keeps his kids in line through physical or emotional abuse, or maybe he micromanages their lives to an absurd level. His children may obey him, but they don’t respect him. Ephesians 6:4 warns that he will provoke them to wrath. God says that a good father is able to keep his children in submission while also maintaining his dignity. It’s a tough balance sometime because kids are not robots and they are all different. With some kids, all you have to do is look at them sternly, and they melt; others are as stubborn as a mule. But a good parent finds a way to raise disciplined children while doing so in a way that honors Christ and communicates a good testimony. If you have children in the home, you must work hard to do both. You cannot tolerate a defiant attitude. If you let them manipulate you or wear you down into getting what they want, you are not serving them well. In fact, you are being lazy and selfish. You have to rule over them. But don’t ever think that mere orderliness is the goal. The orderliness of your home may put the Marines to shame, but also drive them away from Christ because very little about your home actually reflects Christ. It’s often been said that a child’s perception of God is shaped by the character of his dad. Parents, do your kids see the character of God in how you lead them? Does your leadership in the home make Christ attractive to your children? Do you model the Good Shepherd to them in such a way that they understand true submission, and they trust good authorities? We must lead our kids with a dignity worthy of Christ.
Verse 5 then provides the basis for this requirement.
The Basis: If he cannot rule his home, he is not equipped to rule the church.
Paul assumes that a man’s leadership in the home is a microcosm of how he will lead on a larger scale in the church. If he can’t maintain discipline at home, he won’t be able to maintain order in the church. If he is an undignified, uncompassionate, dictatorial leader at home, he will probably do the same at church. If he is a workaholic who neglects his family, he lacks the ability to prioritize well and probably won’t lead the church with clarity toward God’s ultimate purpose. This last problem is especially common among outwardly successful men. They are driven to succeed and love the work. On the surface, they are great pastors, but success is an idol, and they neglect their families. Their kids grow to hate the church and ultimately God because in their minds the church and God kept Dad away. He had time for everyone who called with a crisis, but he never had time for me.
Paul says that if a man cannot rule his home with dignity or if his children are unruly and rebellious, he is not qualified to be a pastor or at the very least needs to step away and address it. Of all the qualifications in this list, this one scares me the most because I only have so much control over it. By the grace of God, my family has to respond to my leadership positively, or I can’t be a pastor. It’s also scary because being a pastor’s kid is hard. When my job is hard or when I am gone for long hours, it’s God’s fault in their minds, not just a mean employer’s fault. As well, pastor’s kids often feel the pressure of having extra eyes on them, but they never asked to be in the ministry. If they are struggling, they know that everyone notices, and they may feel bad for the extra pressure their parents feel from those extra eyes. Sometimes, they even have to hear people gripe about their parents whether directly or because parents do so in front of their kids who then pass it along. One of the best things you can do to serve a pastor’s kid is to treat him like any other kid. Don’t expect him to be a super-saint, but don’t give him a free pass either. It takes a community to raise a man or a woman, and pastors need their community to help them raise godly children.
The next requirement is…
A Mature Saint (v. 6): Paul says that a pastor…
The Requirement: He must not be a novice.
The word Paul uses literally means, “newly planted.” It brings to mind a small tree or flower that has just been placed in the ground. Its roots haven’t had time to establish themselves and so the plant can easily be pulled out of the ground, and it requires a consistent water source. It is new and fragile. Similarly, Paul says that a pastor must have an established faith. A new convert should not be thrust into the pastoral office regardless of his giftedness or zeal.
The reason for this is…
The Warning: An immature saint is vulnerable to pride.
Paul warns the church that if a new convert is thrust into leadership too quickly, he is likely to be “puffed up with pride.” When an adult gets saved, they oftentimes have tremendous spiritual fire. They are excited to learn, excited to obey, and excited to serve. They have such a strong motivation that in a sense the Christian life is easy, and they assume that this is how it will always be. This person arrogantly thinks that he can conquer the world because he has no idea how hard the Christian life really is. He has not endured spiritual failure, and he has not learned how to lean on God’s grace through spiritual war. But the church is excited about this person’s zeal, and they make this guy a pastor. His easy ascent to the top continues without having to go through the normal rigors of preparing for ministry, and he thinks he is on top of the world and that he has the strength to do anything.
But Paul says that this man who has been elevated too quickly faces a great temptation to become proud and to endure the same fall that the Devil experienced. The Scriptures indicate that before his fall he was one of the preeminent angels. God created him as a beautiful and powerful being, but rather than giving glory to God, he became proud and defiantly pursued his own glory.
And Paul warns the church not to make the same mistake in choosing a pastor. But despite Paul’s warning, American Christianity repeatedly gets excited about propping up celebrity converts with flashy testimonies. We think that if people see that some Hollywood actor or sports star is a Christian that it will bring a revival. These people are not ready for the hardship that is coming, and oftentimes they fall on their faces and they do far more harm to the cause of Christ than they do good. Paul says that maturity is essential for a pastor. He needs to be humbled by his battles with sin, and he needs to endure a rigorous process of preparing for ministry failing in ministry, and then getting up again before he endures the pressure of being a pastor. A pastor must not be a new convert.
But what does this verse mean for you? I said two weeks ago that this is one of only two qualifications in this list that is not required of all Christians. But there is obvious application for all of us in the warning that concludes the verse because all of us are prone to pride. We enjoy the slightest success, and we begin to think that we’ve got this. I can beat this sin struggle, I would never commit that sin, or I can handle my problems. We don’t pray like we should, we don’t dig into the Scriptures, and we don’t rely on the church. Satan lures us into feeling comfortable. This is a dangerous place to be. One of the most important biblical warnings to remember often is Paul’s warning in 1 Corinthians 10:12. “Let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall.” Guard yourself and don’t ever let pride lead you into a place of vulnerability where Satan can destroy you.
The final requirement is…
A Respected Citizen (v. 7)
The Requirement: He must be respected in the community.
Paul began this list in v. 2 by saying that a pastor must have a blameless testimony, and he drives this idea home to conclude the list. It’s worth noting that v. 2 begins with a verb meaning, “it is necessary,” and vv. 2–6 are a single sentence. Verse 7 repeats the verb and is its own sentence. Clearly, Paul was very concerned to drive home the importance of a pastor’s testimony.
There isn’t much difference in meaning between “blameless” and a “good testimony,” but v. 7 adds the qualifier “those who are outside.” Specifically, Paul has in mind those who are outside the church, or unbelievers. This is why I summarized this qualification as being that he must be a good citizen. The community at large must have a good opinion of a pastor. He must be known as a law-abiding citizen and a good member of the community. He should have the respect of law-enforcement and local officials. He should be a good neighbor who takes care of his home and contributes positively to the neighborhood. I’m glad Paul included this because sometimes it gets overlooked. I’ve known guys who want to be pastors, but they have a poor testimony at work. It’s sobering to think that such a man is disqualified from ministry. When we were living in Michigan, I had a next-door neighbor who was also a pastor. He was the nicest guy, but his yard was grown up with weeds and looked awful, and no one in the neighborhood had ever met him. The neighbors would frequently grumble about him. Because of that, he would have had no credibility to share the gospel with them or to act as a spiritual leader. That’s a problem. Paul says that a man is not qualified to pastor if he has a bad reputation with unbelievers. Now, I think we can safely assume Paul means a legitimately bad reputation because Paul endured a lot of hatred at the hands of unbelievers for preaching the gospel. But it was always the offense of the gospel that made people angry, not Paul’s manner of life.
And Paul urges pastors and all Christians to guard their testimonies carefully before the world. Frankly, the world sometimes acts as a good check on our testimony. Sometimes, we can look at each other with rose-colored glasses and we willingly overlook serious faults. Because of this, a lot of churches have gotten in trouble over the years for not dealing seriously with significant sins like child and sexual abuse. Christians know the person, and they want to be gracious and protecting of each other, and so they downplay or cover what are at times criminal offenses. And there are times when unbelievers may have a clearer perception of a problem than we do. Sometimes this is also true on a lesser scale, and we should not quickly dismiss the moral concerns of unbelievers and snobbishly assume that they cannot contribute anything to our moral perception.
A pastor and all Christians must have a testimony that enhances our witness rather than detracting from it. What is your testimony among the unbelievers in your life? What do your neighbors think of you? Do they know you? Are they glad to be your neighbor, or do they wish you would move away along with all of your junk and your loud dogs? What about your boss, your fellow employees, your kids schoolteachers and principle? Do you consistently display Christ to them in a way that adorns the gospel well?
Guard your testimony carefully because Paul goes on to say that...
The Basis: Character flaws make us vulnerable.
This statement is a bit tricky to interpret for a couple of reasons. First, it is not all together clear how reproach relates to the snare of the devil. In particular, does the devil modify reproach and snare or just snare? In the Greek statement, reproach is set off from snare, so it is best to them as separate consequence. In other words, Paul is saying that a pastor must guard his testimony so that he does not “fall into reproach or a snare of the devil.” The fact that a bad testimony can lead to reproach only makes sense. We should expect people’s hatred and consequent suffering if we don’t have a good testimony.
But what does Paul mean by the “snare of the devil”? In particular is he referring to a snare, or trap that the devil fell into, kind of like we saw in v. 6, or is this a trap that the devil sets? I think we can dismiss the first option because there is no obvious trap in view that Satan fell into based on a bad testimony. Therefore, Paul describes the devil as an antagonist who sets the trap. In particular, Satan uses the bad testimony of Christians to ruin their effectiveness and to bring all sorts of ruin on the church. It’s a very sad thing when a church loses its credibility as a gospel witness because it lacks a good testimony. Satan loves to use our own sins to ruin our ability to fulfill the mission God has given us. He has done this to many pastors, many churches, and many Christians. Don’t give him an opportunity. Guard your testimony very carefully. And let’s work hard as a church to do the same. This is one practical reason why our new child protection policies are so important. The church should never lag behind the world in protecting children and standing against abuse. And always demand a good testimony from your pastors. By God’s grace, let’s never give Satan the opportunity to trap us with our testimony.
These seven verses are clear that the church deserves the best from its leadership. In particular it deserves godly men of character who are equipped for the task. I hope that you will do everything you can to support us in being men who are worthy of the task. And then I hope that you will strive to also live worthy of the calling that you have received. Don’t tolerate character flaws in your life. Instead, confess them to God. Cry out to him for grace, and then in dependence on his grace, fight to be better. Fight to live a life worthy of Christ.