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Choosing a Pastor

Church Leadership in the New Testament, Part 9

Qualifications of an Elder, I Tim. 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9

 “A bishop then must be... One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?)” (I Tim. 3:2,4,5)

Ruleth well; To be over, superintend, preside, maintain, and finely, excellently, rightly. Same word as I Tim. 5:17; “the elders that rule well...” Also I Thess. 5:12; Titus 3:8,14.

Godly leadership in the home is for elders and for Christian men in general. “Husbands, Love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself for it.” (Eph. 5:25). This admonition is found right after the oft-quoted verses (22-24) that states, “Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands,... the husband is the head of the wife,... as the church is subject unto Christ, so let the wives be to their own husbands in everything.

 If husbands were to love their wives as v25 commands, there would be much less problem in the application of the other three verses. This “ruling” should be patterned after the way Christ loves and rules His church. The Bible command for a man to be “the head of the wife” is no excuse for a man to be domineering or to misuse his Biblical role as leader for a “spiritual club” to bash his wife and family into submission. Too often overzealous efforts to “rule” are nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts to cover up insecurities or a low self-esteem in a man. Actions falsely deemed as “loving” are sometimes motivated by pride, selfishness, or the misdirected efforts to control those around him. Men, we are to “dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life that your prayers be not hindered.” (I Pet. 3:7).

Having his children in subjection (15) with all gravity; Gravity: honor, dignity. Commentators are divided whether the gravity is required of the elder or of the children.

Does this mean that a man must be married and have children living at home in order to become a bishop? See previous comments on “the husband of one wife.” Paul would have disqualified himself on the marriage issue as he was not married at that time, possibly never. This interpretation would cause some tension when compared with I Cor. 7:8; 25-33. Paul encouraged celibacy under certain circumstances because of the distraction caused by caring for his mate detracts him from caring “for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” It would hardly be consistent to require marriage in order to serve in this capacity, yet encourage one to stay single so as not to be distracted from serving the Lord.

 What about children in his home? Paul did not qualify on that count either. The next verse states that he may not be a “novice.” This word and the term “elder” both imply that the man has acquired some age. It is conceivable that by the time some men reach this stage, their children are “out of the roost.” What if he legitimately qualifies as an elder and assumes that role for a number of years, then his children reach an age to start their own families? Should he be “demoted?” Rigidly denying either of these hypothetical men the office of bishop would be doing injustice to the general theme of the qualifications: a man must be blameless, or, in other words, a pattern of a good testimony. He must rule his own house well, or have his own house in order, whatever the legitimate variations may be.

 Nevertheless, the parenthetical and rhetorical question, “For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?” remains valid. Many of the same skills and qualities are needed for both. Success in leading his family may well indicate potential success in leading the church. Likewise, failure in his family should raise some doubt about his ability to lead the church. The man’s family is frequently (though not always, e.g. Hosea) a good indicator of his pattern of obedience to God.


(15) Subjection; to rank under, submission, obedience.

Other verses using a form of the same Greek word:

Luke 2:51; Jesus, as a child was subject to his parents.

Luke 10:17,20; The demons were subject to the disciples.

Romans 8:7; The carnal mind is not subject to the law of God.

Romans 10:3; Israel tried to establish their own righteousness and did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God.

Romans 13:1,5; Everyone should be subject to government authority. Also Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13.

1 Corinthians 14:34: Women to be in obedience in the church. Also I Tim 2:11.

1 Corinthians 16:16; Submit yourselves to faithful laborers.

Ephesians 5:21; Submitting yourselves one to another in the fear of God. Also I Pet. 5:5.

Ephesians 5:22 Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. Also Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; I Pet. 3:1,5.

Ephesians 5:24; The church is subject unto Christ.

James 4:7; Submit yourselves therefore to God.

Ephesians 1:22; (Jesus) And hath put all things under his feet, and gave him to be the head over all things to the church. Also Phil. 3:21; Heb. 2:8. I Cor. 15:27.

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