Open your Bible with me this morning to 1 Timothy chapter 3. First Timothy chapter 3. Instead of preaching a sermon to you this morning, in a sense I am preaching a sermon that relates to me. For in 1 Timothy chapter 3, we have a text dealing with the standards and qualifications for those who lead the church.
This message is directed at those who are pastors and elders and overseers in the church – this church or any other church. Verses 1 through 7 lay down the call and characteristics of church leaders, and they are indeed precious and essential words of truth for us to hear.
Remember Paul is writing to Timothy who is in Ephesus. Things have gone wrong in the church, and Paul is setting them right. One of the things that is most wrong is the leadership has been corrupted. As we have learned from chapter 1, there are some leaders who are no longer committed to sound doctrine. There are some leaders who are giving heed to fables and endless genealogies. Later on, in chapter 4, he talks about old wives’ fables. They are into covetousness; they are hungry for money. They are teaching doctrines of demons; they are led by seducing spirits; they are forbidding things that God allows, and allowing things that God forbids. Some of them are women who have usurped the role of leadership. Many of them would like to think of themselves as teachers of the law, but they do not understand the law nor what it teaches. They have perverted and twisted the gospel.
So, there is a tremendous problem in Ephesus relative to leadership. And in writing to them, this epistle which really flows to the church through Timothy, Paul sets down the standards for leadership. Timothy, in setting things right in the church, in determining how people ought to behave, is going to have the responsibility of putting down the wrong leaders and putting up the right leaders.
And so, in order to do that, there must be a clear understanding of the qualifications for those leaders. And that is precisely what you have in this very, very important text. This speaks to the church at Ephesus; it speaks to our church; it speaks to every church of the qualities required of those who are pastors and elders and overseers in the church.
I am reminded, just by way of an introduction, of a familiar verse which you know well, if you’ve studied the Bible with us, Acts 20:28, which says, “The Church of God which He” – being Christ – “has purchased with His own blood.” Peter calls that precious blood. The Church has been bought by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. The price? Infinite. The shedding of the blood of the Son of God.
It’s almost as if Christ were asking the Church, when He says that, “Did I die for those souls? Did I shed My precious blood to redeem them, and will you not look after them carefully? And will you not put in leadership those men of spiritual virtue and godly responsibility who can lead those people I have purchased to the fullness of My holy purpose?”
It’s as if Christ is saying, “Did I come to earth, did I endure the shame, did I suffer, did I seek to save the lost, to draw them into My fellowship, and then for you to treat them with indifferent, or to lead them without purity or without devotion or without diligence?”
And so, the question we ask ourselves in this text is what kind of men are fit to lead in the Church. What kind of men are fit to serve as overseers in the Savior’s kingdom? What kind of men are to be the preachers and teachers? What kind of men are to be chosen as elders? That is the matter that this text deals with. What kind of men?
And we said, first of all, they are men who are called, and they are called by the working of the Spirit of God in their heart, giving them a strong desire. Notice verse 1, “And here is a true saying” – that is one that had become common in the Church by this time – “if a man desire the office of an overseer, he desires a good work.” And we see here that the first matter of discussion is this issue of a desire. The call to the ministry is a desire planted in the heart by the Spirit of God.
In fact, in Acts 20:28, Paul also says, “The church over which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers.” It is the work of the Spirit to make a person an overseer or a pastor. In Acts 13:2, it says they prayed, and they fasted, and the Holy Spirit said, “Separate Saul and Barnabas unto Me for the work that I’ve called them for.” It is the work of the Spirit. The Spirit alone brings that desire to the heart of an individual.
Placing the right men in leadership, then, begins with the Spirit, the Spirit working on the heart, prompting the heart, that a man would like to give the rest of his life to the ruling of the church and the teaching and preaching and praying and caring and setting policy and ordaining of others, that that work that an overseer/elder/pastor does – all the same individual – is the strongest desire of his heart. And when that desire is prompted by the Spirit of God, that constitutes the call of God in the life of that individual. But that call then must be confirmed by the congregation.
And so, we come to verse 2. And alongside this compelling call in the heart of a man is a confirmation by the church, who examines that man. And the examination process goes something like this, “An overseer, then, must be blameless.” And in our last study, we looked at that word, and we just looked at that word.
Let me just remind you about it. It is the word that sums up everything that is said from here on down to verse 7. This person is to be blameless, to be in a state of being above reproach. He is to be a model role of the pastor, a model of godliness, a model of virtue. He is to be set apart as a standard against which every life could be measured, and by which every life instructed and to which every life seek attainment.
In other words, the one who is in leadership in the church is to be the pattern for everyone to follow. It is a high and lofty pattern. His life then cannot be marked by vice or sin or any ground of accusation.
Our family was driving yesterday, and one of our children said, “Dad, if a man sins when he’s in the ministry, can he be forgiven and restored?”
And I said, “Well, first of all, God will forgive, yes, of course. God forgives anything from the penitent sinner. Yes, he can be forgiven. And in answer to your second question, yes, he can be restored; it happens all the time. Men fall into sin in the ministry, and they’re restored, and very often put right back in the ministry. That’s rather common.
“In fact, it’s becoming very common. In fact, in many cases, it seems to be a new standard. But the thing that is so frightening about that,” I said, “is that every time a man in the model role of shepherd/pastor/elder/overseer in the church sins, and the sin is known, and he falls, and he is forgiven – yes, by God – and he is restored by the church – yes, in love, hopefully through his repentance – every time he is then put back into the ministry, the standard is lowered a little bit. The model comes down. And now there’s a new level of toleration so that the old standard has been lowered to accommodate the sinfulness of the man.”
And so, the perception of the people then is that the leadership of the church isn’t nearly as elevated as it once was. Therefore, the standard for them is equally lowered. Every time the church does that, the standard comes down a notch, and at this particular point in the history of the church, certainly in our country, it is happening at such an epidemic level, where men sin of a major proportion in the ministry, they are restored to that ministry, or to some like ministry, and the perception of the standard of virtue for those who lead the church and who model godliness is lowered to a more tolerable level.
I have read about a man who sinned flagrantly multiple times, was in a ministry. He was restored. Of course God forgave him when he repented. Then he was restored to the church, put back in a place of ministry. And some people say, “Isn’t that wonderful that he was able to be right back in the ministry, that God forgave and completely restored the man?”
I think it might be nice for him to have that confidence, but it may be tragic for the perception of godly people to see the standard coming down all the time, closer to where everybody is normally living. And I fear that, and I fight that
I don’t want to be perceived as being unloving or unforgiving or not desiring to restore. I would forgive, and anybody who knows me very well would know, I hope, that I do not maintain grudges or bitterness at all, but want to have a forgiving heart. And they would also know that I would desire very strongly that someone would be restored to fellowship and love in the church. But to take a man and restore him right back to a place of spiritual leadership is to start a new standard, not the one God ordained. And then everyone is much more comfortable with their own problems.
And so, we go back to the Word of God. Let’s find out what the standard is. It isn’t the standard that I see being put upon the Church today; it is the standard of the Word of God, and it is being attacked both overtly and covertly all the time. The man who serves in the church is to be blameless. There’s nothing in his life which can be spoken against him, either by the believer, which diminishes his example, or the unbeliever, which causes him to be vulnerable to any malicious attack against him and therefore against the church and the Lord he represents.
He is to be blameless. That is, in his present or in his past, there is not to be some blight upon his spiritual life. I’m not talking about what he did before he was ever converted; I’m not saying he had to be perfect from birth. But once a man is identified as a spiritual leader in the church, at that particular point, that identification should be based upon a pattern of blamelessness, and it should call for a maintained pattern of blamelessness, and when the pattern is violated, that man can do something else, and something else that God may bless, but he cannot be put back into a situation which lowers the standard without a high price being paid and I think God being dishonored.
There are four areas of life in which he’s to be blameless. Blameless is the overarching concept. Everything that flows from verse 2 through 7 really elucidates and comments on what blameless means. There are four areas of life examined. When a man has a desire for the leadership of the church, there are four areas of life by which the church tests that man. One, moral character; two, home life; three, maturity; four, reputation. Moral character, home life, maturity, reputation.
By the way, all of these things that are given from verse 2 to 7 are present tense characteristics. But obviously they reach into the past to encompass the knowledge of that man’s life known to the people in the ministry that he’s involved with. They are speaking of a present purity, but it doesn’t mean that he could have had a past impurity that is all of a sudden immediately erased in the present. He must be known in the present as a man who is and has been a godly man.
So, while it is a present trait list, it implies a past purity because if his past was impure, the present reputation would be a reputation of a blighted life. So, we’re talking about a man who is blameless in the perception of the people who know him in the present, which blamelessness reaches into the past of their knowledge and shows no blot against his character.
You say, “Isn’t that an awfully high standard?”
Yeah, it is. God wants the very highest standard possible, because God is absolutely holy. And that’s why in 1 Peter 1, He says, “Be ye holy as I am holy” - I want to set models in the community that are as close to My holiness as is humanly possible; therefore, the standard is all the way up here. All the way up here.
We cannot compromise on this in the church. I really believe this is just so basic to the life of the church. Well, this morning we’re going to start to look at the moral character. These are so important. And the intent of this word is going to be so far-reaching in our church and churches around the world that may hear this message, that I want to take my time to explain these things in a way that will be understood.
Let’s look then, first of all, at his moral character in verses 2 and 3. “An overseer” - in the church – “then, must be blameless, a one-woman man, temperate, sober minded, of good behavior, given to hospitality, skilled in teaching, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy of filthy lucre, but patient, not a brawler, not covetous.”
Now, those two verses deal with his moral character. And that is a marvelous, marvelous list. We’re going to work our way through that list today and next time. Let’s begin at the beginning. His blamelessness is first of all identified by this characteristic: he is to be a one-woman man.
Now, I realize that the Old English, the King James, the Authorized Version says, “The husband of one wife.” That is not an accurate rendering of the Greek text. It uses the word gynaikos which is woman. It uses the word anēr, which is man, and it simply says, “A one-woman man.” The emphatic is the word “one.” “A one-woman man.” Here Paul is not stressing marital status. There is no definite article “the” husband of one wife. It is with without the article “a” one-woman man. And the absence of the article stresses not circumstances and not marital status, but character. It stresses character.
He begins to discuss the blamelessness of this man by a statement about his moral, sexual behavior. His character starts right here.
Somebody says, “Well, why is this first in the list?”
I’ll tell you; in my humble experience through the years, I have found this area of a man’s life to be that which most often puts men out of the ministry - more than any other matter, the inability to be a one-woman man. And that is why it is listed first, because it is such an obvious matter of grave concern, and such a mark of moral character.
Now, what does it refer to? Some people have suggested that it means you can’t be a polygamist. That’s been a kind of a traditional interpretation, and that’s what you’d pick up from the English, the husband of one wife. In other words, you can’t have more than one wife.
Well, let me put that view at rest. You couldn’t even be a member of the church if you had more than one wife, let alone a pastor. That is not what it’s talking about. Polygamy wasn’t even a major issue in that period of time. This is not Old Testament time; this is Roman time. The Romans didn’t have polygamist marriages. Why would they bother? They had concubines; they didn’t need to marry a woman to have a relationship with her. They had in their society women called hetaerae who just floated around to give sexual favors to men. And then non-citizen women were used by men for their sexual activity. And then they had concubines. And then divorce was so rampant that we read of one Roman who had 27 different wives and only one at a time. And one writer talks about women wearing out their bridal veils with so many weddings.
And among the Jews, polygamy was not tolerated either. He’s not talking about polygamy here. Polygamy would disqualify you from even being in the church. They’d discipline you out before you got in. Sexual promiscuity was rampant. Vice was rampant. Prostitutes and deviant sexual priestesses and all of that was rampant in Ephesus, but not polygamy. The issue here is not that you can’t be a polygamist.
Somebody else says, “No, the husband of one wife means you could never have a second wife. You could never be married to more than one person.”
Well, I find that to be difficult in interpretation, because in the first place, that is not what the text originally says; it says “a one-woman man,” and it’s speaking about character, not marital status. But let’s assume even that we translate it the husband of one wife, are we saying that someone who had married a second wife could never be an elder in the church? Not hardly, because there are some terms in Scripture by which God not only permits but honors a second marriage. Is that not right?
Let me show you. Look at chapter 5, 1 Timothy, verse 9, “Let not a widow be taken into the number” – and the number means the group of widows cared for by the Church. The Church was to take over the care of widows, when their husband died, “if they were over 60 years of age and if they were godly, virtuous women who” - verse 10 says – “brought up children, done good works, lodged strangers, washed the saints’ feet, relieved the afflicted, diligently followed every good work,” and so forth.
So, if these women had lost their husband in their years after 60, they were to be taken into the number and the care of the Church, “if they had been” – here’s the same Greek phrase reversed “a one-man woman.” A one-man woman. Now, it doesn’t mean there that she’d only been married to one man, because it goes right on to say, “The younger widows” – verse 11 – “refuse to put on the list” – why? – because they’ll make a vow, “Oh, I’m going to serve Christ; I’m never going to marry,” and then they’ll begin to feel the need of a man and the desire for a man, and they’ll grow wanton against the vow they made to Christ, and they’ll throw away their first commitment, and they’ll get into some trouble. And they may even, verse 15, “turn aside after Satan” and commit sins of fornication.
So, verse 14 says, “I will, therefore, that the younger women” – do what? – “marry.” And these women referred to here are widows. So, he says that widows ought to remarry, bear children, rule a house.
So, you see, then, that God honors a second marriage in the case of the death of a first partner. Widows should remarry. That pleases God. In fact, that’s a command given here, that the younger ones do that so that they don’t allow the adversary to cause reproach to come upon the name of Christ. Nothing wrong with a second marriage in a widowed situation.
Look at Romans chapter 7 and verse 2, “The woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is loosed from the law” - implied –“that bound her to her husband. So then, if while her husband lives she marries another man, she’s an adulteress; and if her husband is dead, she is free from the law, so that she is no adulteress though she be married to another man.”
So, what it’s saying here is, in the case of the death of a partner, you have absolute right, absolute freedom to remarry. In fact that’s a very wonderful option.
Now look at 1 Corinthians chapter 7, verse 39. It says the same thing, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whomever she will” – mark this qualifier – “only in the Lord.” That is marry only a – what? – a Christian. But you’re free. Now, there’s nothing at all, ever in the Scripture, said against a second marriage in the case of a widow. So, the point of this passage, a one-woman man, is not some kind of blanket forbidding that anyone married a second time could ever serve in a ministry. But there have been people who have interpreted it that way, and some who have been widowed, and then remarried men – a man losing his wife, marrying another woman, and some feeling they could no longer serve in the church. That’s not the intent of this text, for God honors that. God allows that.
Then the question comes, “Well, maybe it means divorced people.” Well, if it was intended to say that, it would have been very simple; all he would have had to say was, “This is to be a man who has never been divorced.” But it doesn’t say that either. It doesn’t say a man who has never been divorced. Because that would be such a broad, blanket statement, that that would pose problems as well.
The Bible teaches that remarriage, after a divorce, is within the will of God under some circumstances. Let me remind you of what they are. Look with me at Matthew chapter 5 for a moment. And you can find this in a full discussion, in the series we did, Jesus teaching on divorce, or in the book On the Family, the last two chapters. I’m just giving you a little review. In Matthew 5:31, Jesus said to the Jewish leaders, “It has been said” – what he meant by that was, “It’s been said by your rabbinical tradition, it has been said in your religious circles, “Whosoever will divorce his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement.” Do you know what that means? If you want to divorce your wife, just be sure you do the paperwork. That’s all it means. “You said, your teaching is, if you want to get rid of the your wife, just do the paperwork. It doesn’t matter; you can dump her for anything you want.” And there were Jews who were divorcing their wives for all kinds of things: burning their breakfast; because they found someone more pleasing – any number of things – because she spoke against her mother-in-law – all kinds of things.
So, he says, verse 32, “I’m going to correct that. You cannot just divorce your wife for any reason by giving her the paperwork. I say to you, whoever shall divorce his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causes her to commit adultery when she remarries. Whoever marries her that is divorced commits adultery.” Implied also, “Whoever you marry, you make an adulteress, and you become an adulterer.”
In to her words, you will have adultery all over everywhere if you divorce your wife except for the cause of fornication. What kind of fornication? Sexual sin. I believe a prolonged, unrepentant sexual sin. I believe that in God’s grace and in His mercy, where there is a marriage of two people, and one of those partners continues in an adulterous, evil, sexual sin, and will not return and repent, and will not make it right that God allows by His grace that that innocent partner can be free from the bondage of that vile person, and the freedom from that bondage is a freedom to remarry by God’s grace, but only in those extreme situations of unrelenting and unrepentant sexual sin. That’s what Scripture teaches.
Now listen; in the Old Testament, if your partner committed adultery, what would happen to your partner? Be stoned to death. And then you would be free. Right? You’d be a widow. And just because God, in His grace, now does not demand that we kill the adulterer does not change the evil of that sin. And should God’s grace to the adulterer, which spares his life, then penalize the innocent party by keeping that person single all their life? No. God’s grace to the adulterer, that may let the adulterer live, does not mean the innocent party is not free to remarry. In the case of adultery – unrepentant, unrelenting adultery – I believe God will allow a person to go out of that situation, and by His grace, to marry another.
There’s one other situation we ought to look at, 1 Corinthians chapter 7. In 1 Corinthians chapter 7, we find, in verse 15, “If the unbelieving depart” – now, here you have an unbeliever married to a believer, and an unbeliever’s had enough, and he wants out – “and when the unbeliever leaves, let him go; let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases, God has called us to peace.” God does not want you to live your life in absolute war. And if this person insists on leaving, then let him leave; you are no longer under bondage.
There are only two situations in Scripture which tolerated divorce. God hates all divorce, but is gracious to the innocent in these two situations: one, when a partner commits continuous sexual sin, and secondly, when the unbelieving partner leaves. In those two situations, the Bible is telling us that a believer is free to remarry. Free to remarry.
Now, let’s look back just to really crystallize this into chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians again. And I want you to notice something very important as I kind of support that point. There are three groups of people mentioned in verse – in chapter 7. First of all, virgins are mentioned here. We find virgins mentioned down in verse 25, and several other verses mention them as well – verse 36, 37. We all know what a virgin is; that is a person, single, never married, no sexual relationship. A single, never married person.
The second category of people dealt with here are widows. Widows. Verse 8 mentioned widows, and that’s very clear as well. A widow is a single person, formerly married and now single by death. So, you have virgins and widows.
The third category of people mentioned in the chapter are the unmarried. The term unmarried appears here in several different verses. Now, we want to ask ourselves who are the unmarried? They’re mentioned in verse 32, “He that is unmarried...” Who is this unmarried person?
In verse 34, we have the mention of a virgin and the unmarried woman. So, we conclude, then, that the virgin and the unmarried are different. A virgin being single because of never marrying, an unmarried person being something other than that. So, they’re different. Virgins and unmarried are different in verse 34.
Go back to verse 8, “I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows...” So, now we have another distinction made between the unmarried and the widows. So, we conclude that the unmarried are not virgins, and the unmarried are not widows. So, the unmarried are not single because of death, and they’re not single because of just lifelong singleness. Who are these unmarried?
Well, let’s look at verse 10, “And to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife divorce her husband” - or leave her husband – “but if she does” – let’s say a woman leaves her husband; here’s a divorce – “let her remain” – what’s the word? – “unmarried.” I believe this crystallizes who the unmarried are. The unmarried are the formerly married, now single by – what? – divorce.
So, you have single people who’ve always been single, you have single people who are single by death, and you have single people who are single by divorce. But I will please remind you that the unmarried within the provision of God have a right to remarry.
Look at verse 8 again, “I say, therefore, to the unmarried and the widows” - those of you who were separated by divorce, those of you who were separated by death – “it is good for them if they abide even as I” - it’s good if you stay the way you are; just stay single; that’s good. And he goes on later in the chapter to tell why it’s good, because you can devote yourself to Christ; you don’t have to care about all of the duties of the home and the family and all of that. It’s good, but if you can’t have self-control – in other words, if your desire for marriage is so strong, and you’re a widow or a formerly married person now divorced, then let them marry. Because it is better to marry than to just be burning all the time with desire.
So, the point is this, people: a remarriage, in and of itself is not a sin. If a person was widowed and remarried, if a person was the innocent party in a divorce, where the other person was an unrepentant adulterer, a remarriage is not a sin. If an unbeliever departed, a remarriage is not a sin. So, we cannot blight someone’s life with a second marriage as if that in itself were sinful.
Now, having said all of that, I would confess to you that the majority of second marriages in our particular day and age are sinful. Obviously. Because they do not fit within that narrow definition of tolerable divorce given in the Word of God. But the point now, going back to 1 Timothy 3 – if you’re not there, turn to it, will you please - the point going back here is not that he is saying no one can ever be in church leadership who’s ever been previously married. That’s ridiculous, because there are tolerances within that. That isn’t even the issue here. If he wanted to be explicit about that, he would have said it another way.
Let me add a footnote. You say, “You mean to tell me that if a person was married, and their wife was an adulteress, adulteress, adulteress and wouldn’t repent, and she just took off, that he’s still free to be in the ministry?”
I didn’t necessarily say that. What I said was that’s not the issue here. That would become an issue in another part of the section. Check out verse 4 and 5, “A man who rules well his own house, has all his children in subjection with seriousness (if he doesn’t know how t rule his own house, how is he going to take care of the church of God?)” Now you’ve got a divorce situation, even on legitimate biblical grounds, even fitting Matthew 5 or fitting 1 Corinthians 7, you’re going to have to test this man on this, too: was that divorce or did that divorce really betray an inability, or did that result in an inability of that man to lead his household properly? Now, that’s another test you’d have to apply. So, in a sense, you crisscross this situation.
The point I want you to understand is that in the first qualification given here, there is no issue brought up about a first or second marriage. There is no issue about polygamy here.
Some have even said, “This means no single people can ever lead the church.”
That’s not true either. If you say, “no single person can lead the church,” then Paul is disqualified, because he, at this time, had no wife. And in 1 Timothy 4:14, and in 2 Timothy 1:6, he refers to himself as an elder, as a member of the eldership. No.
Some others have said, “Well, even if you don’t have children, how can you rule your children well if you don’t have children? So, people with no children can’t be in the ministry.”
Wait a minute. Now we are really getting carried away. The assumption is most men will be married; most men will have families; most men will have children. It is not a penalty to be single, and it’s certainly not a penalty if God doesn’t give you children. But if he does, they need to fit within these qualifications.
The issue here then is not marital status. It is not marital circumstance. You see, if you say this means a man could only have one wife, you have just taken it out of the realm of moral qualification, and you’ve made it marital status. What is that morally? Nothing. You can be a man married to one woman for 50 years, and all 50 of those years not have been a one-woman man. True? Well, of course.
No, being married to one woman doesn’t qualify you for anything except a pat on the back. And nice that you sort of follow through on that high standard.
Now, we’re talking about moral qualifications. The issue here, beloved, is a one-woman man. What that means is man devoted to one woman in his heart and mind. In his heart and mind. Keep in your mind that sexual evil was rampant in Ephesus. In fact, Ovid wrote a book – he was an ancient writer – he wrote a book called The Art of Love. My favorite quote from his book The Art of Love is this quote – he said, “Only the ugly are loyal.” Now, that’ll give you a little idea of the sexual standard of that – of the time. The only reason you were loyal because you were ugly, and nobody would bother you at all.
You see, those people lived in an absolute barnyard, a pigpen of immorality. And what he is saying, you see, to Timothy is, “Hey, Timothy, one thing you’re going to have to do at the very beginning, when you put these men in a position of leadership, it will be made very clear that they are one-woman men, because that’s the only standard that God tolerates in His Church in terms of godly living. This is a man who loves only one woman, who desires only one woman, who thinks of only one woman, whose heart is for only one woman, and that woman is the wife that God has given to him. This is a man who would never do treacherously against the wife of his youth, as the prophet put it, not in a legal sense of divorcing nor in the spiritual sense of violating that commitment to her in his own mind, in his own heart.
Do you remember what Jesus said to the Jewish leaders in Matthew 5? He said, “If you look on a woman to lust after her, you’ve committed adultery in your heart.” Well, that’s the kind of man that is not fit for the ministry, the kind of man who, though married to only one woman, lusts after many other women. Sexual purity in thought, sexual purity in conduct. And, you see, the reason this is at the top of the list is because this such a major problem.
To be honest with you – and I could never support this – there may have been, in the congregation of the church at Ephesus, very few people who hadn’t at one time been divorced. I don’t know that. Certainly in the early Church it must have been rampant. Very few people who hadn’t had all kinds of sexual escapades, but when they came to Christ, from then on, there was to be purity of life.
Now, I don’t want you think for a minute that a man can be in the ministry, and if he’s got a high-profile ministry, he can have a divorce, and a woman can leave him, and that’s okay, he can just stay in the ministry. If that divorce fits the biblical qualification, and if that man is seen to be innocent by all, and if he can still demonstrate to the world around him and to the people in his ministry that he controls his own family, then he can sustain that ministry. But that is highly unlikely. That is a very – a very threatening event. But that’s not the issue here. The issue here is the heart of the man, the moral character of the man. When I was ordained, after about a month or two of preparation and council meetings, I came to my final ordination, and I went through three hours of questioning. And at the end of that time, I was ordained to the ministry. The men came up to sign my ordination certificate. The first name signed there, the biggest name – sort of a John Hancock thing, very large; it sits there on my ordination certificate behind my desk in my study – that name of that man right there, he was the first to sign; he was so, you know, anxious to commend me to the ministry. He signed his name there, and within a brief period of time was defrocked, thrown out of the church for sleeping with a whole lot of women he was counseling in his church.
And I never look at that name on my certificate – and I can’t help but see it, because it’s the name that sticks out above the rest – without thinking to myself, “That is a reminder of exactly what the apostle Paul is talking about. This man was disqualified because he was not a man devoted to one woman.
And you see, if that is true of a man, and you overlook that, or you just sort of push that aside, and you cover it up, or you say, “We’re going to restore the man,” and then you bring him back in the ministry and say, “Well, he’s repented, and we’ve forgiven him, and it’s wonderful,” and now he’s back in leadership in the Church, you have just done – what? – you’ve lowered the standard, and you’ve said, “It really doesn’t mean a one-woman man; it just means a one-woman man most of the time. Most of the time.” No, no, not most of the time, all of the time. All of the time.
And you say, “Well, that was in the past.”
Well, maybe it was so far in the past before he was converted it wasn’t a problem, but if it’s in the past since he’s been in a position of spiritual growth or responsibility, it is a problem. And once he steps into leadership, if it happens then, it is for sure a disqualification. And I’m not saying he can’t come back and serve people and serve the Lord and maybe share the Word with people and be a part of the church community. I’m just saying if you put him right back in the position of spiritual leadership as the model of virtue and the standard that God would have, and the pattern of holiness, you’ve just lowered the standard.
Well, let’s go to a second one - at least we can cover two today – and that’s the word “temperate.” Interesting word. Not until this study began for me did I really understand this word. I had never really dealt with it before. But I looked it up, and it’s the word nēphalios. It means wineless. Kind of interesting. It means unmixed with wine.
Yes, Judges 9:13 says, “Wine cheers the heart.” Sure it was a pleasurable thing to drink the sweet juice of the grape. But it was also a potential for great harm. That’s why they always mixed it with water. You see, it’s a hot and dry land – Bible lands – and you would drink a lot just to replenish the fluids that your body lost in the heat. And the more you drank, the more potential for drunkenness. And so, wine was always mixed with high amounts of water so that you could drink it without having drunkenness result.
But even so, it was potentially dangerous because of the lack of refrigeration and the degenerative properties of wine that made it ferment and gain an alcoholic content which could be intoxicating. And that is why, though it can cheer the heart, and though it can be good, as Paul says to Timothy, for the stomach’s sake in some matters, and though it could be given to someone who’s near death for the sake of relieving their pain, still it’s goodness is not the whole story. It is offset greatly by statements like this in Proverbs 20, verse 1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”
Or Proverbs 23, “Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go and seek even mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it gives its color in the cup, when it moves itself aright.” In other words, full bodied wine. “At the last, it bites like a serpent; it stings like an adder. And thine eyes shall behold strange things.” That’s the DTs. “Thine heart shall utter perverse things. You’ll be like somebody lying in the middle of the sea or lying on the top of a mast.” All kinds of illusions. You’ll be saying, “They’ve stricken me,” and you’ll say, “I wasn’t sick; and they’ve beaten me, and I felt it not.” And then you’ll say, “When will I awake? And I’ll see it again.” The wine that mocks.
I think of Noah in Genesis chapter 9. He decided to plant a vineyard. He was a farmer, it says, and he was going to plant a vineyard. So he did. And then he drank of his vineyard, and he became drunken, and he went in his tent. And it says, “He appeared in his nakedness.” And that doesn’t just mean he didn’t have his clothes on; there is some kind of evil sexual allusion in those words. And his son came in and came out and mocked him. And his other sons went in backwards with something to cover him up because they were so ashamed of his nakedness; his evil, vile, sinfulness because of his intoxication.
And you read of Amnon in 2 Samuel chapter 13, verses 28 and 29. Read throughout Scripture the evil of drink, and read Leviticus 10:9, where it says that the priest is never to enter into the house of God, to function in his priestly duty, having consumed wine. It was forbidden to them forever it says. The Nazarite vow, the highest vow of spiritual commitment in the Old Testament, Numbers 6:3, forbid a person to drink it. It was forbidden to kings; it was forbidden to princes and all leaders in Proverbs 31:4.
The potential of that is so devastating because of the judgments that have to be made, because of the model that has to be set, because of the example. And so, he says, first of all, “This overseer must be a one-woman man, and a man who doesn’t participate in drinking.” Those are the two cultural evils of the time, as well as the two evils of the heart. Drunken orgies were part of Ephesian culture. You read the story of Diana of the Ephesians and what went on at the temple, and the kind of lifestyle. Josephus says, “The word was commonly used for abstaining from wine entirely.” That’s Josephus.
The primary idea here may not even be this, although this is certainly an inherent idea. And the reason the word is translated temperate rather than having something to do with wine specifically is because in a metaphorical usage, it means to be – what can I say? – alert, watchful, vigilant, clearheaded. You never allow yourself to get intoxicated. You’re always thinking clearly. It is that inner strength that denies any excess.
Abstinence, alertness, watchfulness. “You never allow yourself to sink to the level,” says William Hendrickson, “where your pleasures are primarily those of the senses. Your pleasures should always be those of the soul.” You have a balanced, controlled lifestyle; no excesses, and always in clear, clear use of your faculties. Anybody in spiritual leadership better function like that, better be a person who is wineless, unmixed with wine, one who doesn’t have his head all muddied up with that or with anything else. Any excess, really, we could apply here. There’s a certain moderation of life in this. And there are so many things in which we can be excessive, not just drink, but for some food and often gluttony and drinking are linked. It seems to be that in the past that overeating has been known as the preacher’s sin. And often that’s a just criticism. But we are to be balanced; we are to be without excess who leads spiritually. Why? Because God expects us to have a higher standard than the people? No, because God expects the people to have that high standard. But in order to have that high standard, they have to have a model to follow. Okay? That’s very important to understand. We’re not to live this in isolation from the people. We’re not to elevate ourselves to some priestly stratosphere where everybody bows down and says, “Oh, aren’t they supernatural?” We’re to be the pattern to which everyone arises.
So, what is it then that God requires of one who leads in His Church? He requires that the man be devoted to one woman with all his heart and mind. That’s a mark of virtue, beloved. I’m telling you, in a world like this today, with all the garbage that is thrown and the filth of television and movies and music and books and magazines and everything else, for men to be able to stand true in heart to the woman God gave them is a mark of moral character by God’s grace and power.
And also, in a world full of excesses, for a man to be clearheaded, and to stay away from those things, whether they be drink or drugs or gluttony or whatever other excesses the world pushes on us, and to maintain a balance of life, an alertness and a watchfulness, and a clear mindedness, that is also another mark of moral character.
I sometimes think that we only look at one thing, you know, when we think about a young man going into the ministry, and that is has he got a lot of personality, and can he talk? Somewhere along the line I only wish that we had some kind of means by which we could screen things like this, because these are the things the Spirit of God establishes as the standards for those who minister in the church.
My prayer is that God will make us these kind of men. God will raise up more of these kind so that the standard can be set so that the Church of Christ can be all that God would have it to be. And as I said at the beginning, every time the church dismisses these standards and lowers them, it comes up with something less than God wants, and the people then ascend to less, and the church is diminished. And that is tragic.
So, let it be that the standard stays where God put it, and that we endeavor to be the kind of men God would have us to be so that you can be the people who have the examples needed to follow.
We come to You, Lord, this morning, then, with thankful hearts, not because we’ve arrived at this point, but because we know what You require. And You never asked anything that You didn’t enable us by Your Spirit to do. I pray, Father, now for myself and the pastors and elders of this church, that You would keep us all committed to these things, blameless, devoted to that one woman, with a pure heart, clean thoughts and intents and motives, pure and steadfast devotion.
And, Lord, keep us from those excesses that betray a lack of a disciplined life, a lack of watchful alertness. And help us, Lord, to function with full faculties, alert and awake and alive to Thee, and to the enemy, and to Thy people and Thy work. And I pray, Lord, also not only for us but for the many young men, following behind who shall lead the next generation, who will stand in the place of those who now lead. I pray, Lord, for them the same things.
I pray for the purging of the Church, and the purging of those who aspire to ministry. I pray also for the people that, having the standard that You would desire to set, they might follow that pattern to be what You would have them to be. This we ask, Lord, not for our sake – nor for our sake – not for our glory, not for our reputation, but for Thy sake, for Thy glory, for Thy reputation as the Lord of the Church, whom we love and serve, amen.
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