Previous article in this series: August 2014, p. 446.
Studying the qualifications of elders in Christ’s church, we have already examined those qualifications regarding his gender (he must be male), his blamelessness (the fundamental spiritual qualification), and his relationship to his wife and children.
Several of the qualifications mentioned in I Timothy 3 and Titus 1 regard the elder’s relationship to others, both within and outside of the church. Both passages emphasize that he must be a hospitable man:says he must be “given to hospitality,” and says he must be “a lover of hospitality”—which terms are slightly different translations of the same Greek word. Titus 1:8 further requires that he be “a lover of good men….” And verse 7 reads: “Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”
The presence of these qualifications raises the broader question: must the elder have an outgoing and engaging personality? He must be given to hospitality; but must he be the sort of person always ready to host a gathering? He must be a lover of good men; but must he be the kind of man who forms relationships quickly and easily? He must have a good report of them that are without; but must he be the sort of person that his neighbors like because of his personality?
The fact is that the man’s personality is not the issue. None should think that a man will be a good elder merely because he is very sociable, because you can warm up to him quickly; nor should we suppose that a quiet, reserved man will not make a good elder.
At issue is not the man’s personality, but his character. Scripture underscores this point by the way in which the qualifications are stated: the man must not only be hospitable and keep good company, but he must be a lover of hospitality, and a lover of good. It is possible to be very sociable, but not to love hospitality; and possible to be very sociable, but keep bad company.
For the most part, faithful churches understand this point. When councils nominate men for the special offices, they nominate only those men whom they consider biblically qualified—and yet, each man has a different personality. What makes these men with different personalities all fit for office is that they are basically of the same character.
I make this point because, even if faithful churches understand it, not every member of such churches understands it. Suppose a certain man gets into office repeatedly, and suppose someone does not care much for that certain man. Forgetting that God called that man to office through the vote of the congregation, it then becomes easy for a person to conclude that the man got voted in just because of who he is, or who his friends are. In this way—perhaps without realizing it—he justifies his dishonor of an elder in the congregation.
“A Lover of Hospitality”
About this term, we must note three things.
First, the Greek word for “hospitality” indicates that such is shown toward strangers. The root form of the Greek word refers to strangers or foreigners, and the term is translated in“entertain strangers.” The hospitality of which the text speaks is not one shown toward friends and fellow church members, whom one knows well, but toward those whom one does not know.
Second, while showing hospitality to strangers might include visiting with them around an evening meal, the idea is even more that one lodges those strangers. This, again, is the idea of “entertain” in Hebrews 13:2.
Third, the term requires the elder to be a lover of lodging strangers; one who is quick to show strangers such care.
Why must the elder be such a man?
First, because any church of faithful believers should be a welcoming church. Our joy that God has welcomed us into His family, and our appreciation of the communion of saints, should make us ready and willing to share that love and joy with others who are not part of our fellowship. This will, by God’s grace, make them all the more interested in the gospel!
Not only the elders, but the church, must be a lover of hospitality!and Hebrews 13:2 underscore this, being addressed to the church as a whole: “given to hospitality,” and “be not forgetful to entertain strangers.” But if the church will be a welcoming church, its elders must lead the way in welcoming strangers.
Second, the elder must be this because the sinful nature of mankind is such that we are not lovers of hospitality. Two biblical admonitions underscore this: “be not forgetful” (Heb. 13:2), and “Use hospitality one to another without grudging” (). By nature we are selfish. To lodge strangers requires us to spend money, time, and resources on them and it inconveniences us.
So the elder, by being such a lover, displays the power of God’s grace in him.
In our day and society, elders are seldom called on to lodge strangers. But if an elder stands ready to do so much as lodge a stranger, he will certainly show his love for hospitality in other ways as well. He will be ready to welcome visitors that come to church, and to have them for a meal if they stand in need. He will not limit himself to speaking to the same group of men after church, but will speak to others as well. He will have fellow church members over for visits, especially to get to know them better and show love for them. His house will be open to all, and he will be a man whom people know will receive them readily and host them graciously. And he will be a man who stands ready to help any child of God in any need he may have—whether that need is for a meal, lodging, or anything else.
I leave this qualification by mentioning that Calvin’s commentary regarding this qualification is too long to quote, but worth reading.1
“A Lover of Good Men”
The Greek word so translated inneed not be restricted to “men.” The translation could be simply and literally, “A lover of good.” Aiming to get the sense of the term, Calvin translates it more freely, “devoted to kindness,” and gives his reason: “this virtue, accompanied by hospitality, appears to be contrasted by Paul with covetousness and niggardliness.”2
The Greek word translated “good” (agathos) refers to moral good. The elder is to be one who loves that which pleases God and which accords with God’s law. He must be one who recognizes that God, the only good, has determined what good is. The elder then will show his love for good by loving God, God’s church, God’s people, good preaching, godly living, good conduct, and more.
By contrast, he will hate evil and sin. That which detracts from God’s glory, he will oppose.
When the elder is a lover of good, and a hater of evil, he will also be a lover of good men. Loving good men, he will keep good company, and avoid friendships with the ungodly. Loving good men, he will seek to edify the saints.
Loving good, and loving good men, the elder lives the antithetical life, and so sets an example to all of God’s people.
“A Good Report of Them Which are Without”
Finally, we note that the elder must be one regarding whom even those outside the church give a good testimony. This testimony will regard his business practices and work ethic, his personal conduct, and his devotion to the Christian faith.
Of course, some so hate the Christian faith that they would speak evil of any Christian. To hear that sort of person speak evil of an elder does not disqualify the elder for office. Rather, when those outside the church—whether they are Christians of another denomination or not Christians at all—view a man’s conduct as a blot on the name “Christian,” the church must consider that man not qualified for office.
This requirement must not be overlooked or ignored. It is a “must,” according to; it is necessary.
It is necessary for the man himself, as the verse goes on to explain: “lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” Should he be put in office, but then be reproached—at first by outsiders, but later by members of his own congregation if they see that his conduct is not blameless—he will suffer disgrace, and bring shame on himself. This, in turn, the devil can use to bring him further into the snare of sin. It is necessary for the congregation, too. The church must shine as a light in the world of darkness. By the church and through the church, the name of God must be honored. To honor God’s name requires the church to hate sin, and to deal rightly with sin and sinners. To put in office those who are known to be inconsistent in their Christian faith and walk is to dishonor His name!
To sum up, the elder must be one who has a good relationship with others both within the church and without. This good relationship must be the fruit of his love for good, must show itself in his readiness to care for the needs of fellow saints, and must be testified even by those who are not members of the church.
Next time, God willing, we will return to the last few qualifications for the elder, which we have not yet treated.
1 John Calvin, Commentaries on the Epistles to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, translated by Rev. William Pringle (GrandRapids: Baker Book House, 1989 reprint), 79.
2 Ibid, 295.