Character, Not Charisma
Preached by Jason Abbott
A bus hits the elder team as we’re walking across Derry to 3B’s ice cream. (Benjamin was bringing his own coconut, non-dairy, non-sugar ice cream along because he’s a team player.) Thus, Community Free Church is looking for leaders and begins by conducting a pastor search. You find yourselves with 2 candidates. Which of these 2 do you choose?
Candidate one is a very gifted preacher. People flock to hear him preach, and money often comes flowing into the churches where he preaches each week. Added to this, he is an excellent visionary—he’s able to look at the culture at large and seize opportunities to move his vision for the church persuasively forward while bringing the people along with him. And above all, he’s a great strategist. New facility? Here’s how. Better service format? Here’s how.
Candidate two is not a dynamic preacher. He regularly reads his sermons from his manuscript word for word in a monotone voice. He is a good visionary although he regularly finds it difficult to get his churches to embrace that vision. Finally, he’s not a dynamic strategist. His strategy seems largely to preach, pray, and wait for change—even over long periods of time. He’s not really concerned about facilities or service formats.
Again, which of these 2 leaders do you choose?
Well in today’s passage, we’ll find out what Paul has to say to Titus (and us) about choosing leaders. We’ll get an idea of how he’d have us choose (page 1144).
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
10 For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. 11 They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. 12 One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” 13 This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, 14 not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. 15 To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. 16 They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.
As we jump into this part of Paul’s letter, we can divide it into two sections: the (1st) about servants and the (2nd) about slackers. Or, maybe to say it differently, the first part is about the legacy of leadership, and the second is about the laziness of legalism. Let’s look at each in turn.
1. Servants—the legacy of leadership (vv. 5-9)
The standards for elders presented here are high. And, they should be high! However, at times, I think, we’ve misunderstood what some of these things mean and have created unreasonably high standards. Let me clarify:
– What does it mean to be “above reproach”?
Some have attempted to construe this as being without fault, or without sin. Certainly, no man is without fault or sin outside of the God-man—Jesus Christ. Thus, this must rather mean that the candidate has a good and honorable reputation about which no serious accusation can be sustained. Not that he’s perfect!
– What does it mean to be the “husband of one wife”?
This phrase has had no end of controversy. What exactly does Paul intend when he says an elder must be a “one woman man”? That he can’t be divorced? (What if he divorced before he was a believer? Or was abandoned by his wife?) Does this mean if someone is going to be an elder that he must be married first? (What about Paul or Jesus? Were they not elder qualified?)
You see, there are complicating questions when we come to this tiny phrase. Most likely being a “one woman man” means that an elder should be characterized by fidelity in his marriage. He must not be flirtatious or promiscuous in character. Certainly, there are instances where divorce may uncover a character of infidelity, but we must consider what any particular divorce demonstrates about his character. In short, do the divorce details tell us that he’s not a “one woman man”?
– What does it mean that “his children are [to be] believers”?
Well, it seems obvious at first glance—the elder’s kids should be Christians. But it isn’t so simple.1 See, the word “believers” could also be translated “faithful” as the footnotes in any good study Bible will tell you. So, it could mean his kids must be Christians or must simply be “faithful”—submissive or obedient to him. How then do you decide which it is?
Well, we must let Scripture interpret Scripture—or let Paul interpret Paul. You see, in another letter to another young pastor, Paul shares a similar statement which clarifies what he means here. To Timothy, he writes:
[An elder] must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive (1 Timothy 3:4).
Certainly Paul is not setting up separate standards for separate churches: “Tim your elders must have obedient kids; Titus yours must have believing kids.” Rather, what Paul says to Timothy clarifies what Paul says in his letter to Titus—namely, that the children of elders should not be unruly or disobedient.
At this point, you might wonder why I’m working to clarify what Paul says in these 3 areas. Well, first and foremost, because we want to understand the Bible! We take seriously the Bible as God’s word to us! Thus, we want to get at the heart of what it says about these elder qualifications.
However, I have a second reason, and it’s much more personal.
Too often—in the history of the church—these qualifications have been used in order to try to manipulate and control and even hurt elders and their families. This should not be! As a church, we must be careful to avoid doing this.
Moreover, we tend to read these characteristics and think only about elders. Yet, while these qualities are required for elders, they’re not merely for elders. These righteous qualities should be pursued and engendered by all Christians alike. Don’t look at these characteristics as law but legacy—a legacy we should all desire to call our own in Christ.
Are elders to be “above reproach”? Should they have a good reputation? Yes! But not so the rest of the church can go around town and slum it up! We should all aspire to praise God with an honorable character.
Am I, as an elder, to be a “one woman man”? Yes! But not so you can go about flirting and sleeping around. We should all want to worship God with our sexual practice.
Should the children of elders be characterized by respect and obedience? Certainly! But not merely because their father is an elder in the church; instead, because it pleases the Lord when kids obey their moms and dads, both my kids and your kids!
Friends, too often when we contact men and ask them to consider eldership, they feel like they don’t measure up—like they don’t meet the elder qualifications. And humility is a good thing. And holding the office of elder high is a good thing. However, whether you’re an elder or not, whether you decline our invite or not, you’re still called to pursue and engender these attributes!
Paul recorded this truth for us—“If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1).
As a dad, I have relished and celebrated the first steps of each of my 5 kids. There’s something glorious when they take just 3 steps from the sofa to my arms without falling. I’d raise them above my head and twirl them around in celebration. There were stumbles and falls, yet in the end it was worth it.
But what would it be like if they never aspired to walk? Were just satisfied with sitting and scooting and crawling around on the floor? As their dad or mom, how would you feel? Concerned and worried and disappointed, I’ll bet!
How does God view us when we settle for a life of the base and mundane? When we settle for the just good enough? When we just settle?
Again, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Might it be that we would be a church who aspires to the noble things of God! Men, aspire to the noble task of biblical eldership. Whether or not you’re ever one, it’s a good thing to desire! And, when pursued for the glory and praise of God, your efforts won’t be wasted as you grow in hospitality, the love of what’s good, self-control, holiness, and discipline.
This will take hard work and the power of God’s Spirit working in you. However, pursuing and acquiring such a godly character on earth is the laying up of treasure in heaven. It’s a noble task of eternal and infinite worth! Pursue it! Friends, I pray that we’ll be a church that establishes a legacy of godly leadership and imparts that legacy of godly leadership to the next generation.
There is however another way we’re often tempted to go. It may seem good, but it is not. It may seem industrious, but it is actually slothful or lazy. Therefore, Paul warns us about the way of:
2. Slackers—the laziness of legalism (vv. 10-16)
Let me give our memories a refresher by rereading a part of this passage; and, then, I’ll point-out some interesting things about it to you. Paul warns Titus:
. . . there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching . . . what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith . . . (vv. 10-13).
First, notice that Paul warns Titus about some bad teachers “especially those of the circumcision party” (v. 10). These were men who wanted to make believers “subject to . . . Jewish law or some kind of human code of conduct.”2 In other words, they wanted to make salvation about faith in Jesus plus works. That’s legalism.
Second, notice Paul is concerned that the Cretans will follow such teachers because they’re “lazy gluttons” (v. 12). In short, they’re likely to go for legalism because they don’t want to work too hard; they want the easy way.
This should cause us to pause and ask how it is that legalism is the easy way. What makes relationship with God through rules easier than relationship with God through faith? Isn’t the law more demanding? No! It’s not!
Look, if I tell you that to be my friend you have to obey 5 rules each week then once you’ve obeyed those 5 rules during the course of a week you’re finished. If I call for help, you can just say, “I’ve already finished my duties for this week. I’ve earned your friendship.” (At least during that week! More weeks are coming!). Yet, if I tell you that you’re my beloved friend and there aren’t any rules to obey then you’ll always be about the business of friendship. You’re always on call! There’s no time off! If I call and you’re my friend, you’ll come!
Legalism is lazy! And legalistic relationships aren’t real relationships at all!
Friends, through faith in Jesus Christ, God calls us his friends. We have not (and could not have!) earned his friendship. We are called God’s friends by grace. And, as we begin to relate to him, we do not maintain our friendship with him through works. We can never say, “Well, I’ve done my friendship duties this week. I guess I’m off the clock.” Rather, if God calls then we must go.
But, here’s the beauty. God is also there for us! Always, always there for us! You will never find yourself abandoned by God. If you turn to him, he’s there. He’s absolutely faithful. Because, he’s called you his friend in the person of Jesus, and your friendship wasn’t cheap. It cost Jesus his life! You’re valuable to God! Simply turn in faith to him and find out how much he loves you!
Well, as we close, I want to return to that question I asked at the beginning: Which of the two leaders are you going to choose? The one with all the charisma or the one without it? (Confess the intended homiletics trick—Hitler vs. Edwards.)
It’s really a false dilemma I set up. There’s no reason, from what I told you, that you shouldn’t choose the leader with all the charisma. There’s really no reason that you can’t find a leader with charisma and the character Paul describes to Titus. However, if we must choose between charisma and character, I hope we’re clear on what must come first. I pray that we’d choose godly character above charisma, for our leaders, when given the choice. What’s more, I pray that we would choose godly character and not charisma, for ourselves, when given the choice. Amen.