Are Christians not aspiring to be elders exempted from having the attributes of elders?

By Steven Chan

1. In Titus 1:5-9 and 1 Tim 3: 1-7, the Bible provides the list of qualifications for those who may be appointed to serve as elders of the local church.  These qualities were given by God to ensure that those appointed to serve God in that capacity may be able to effectively discharge their work of overseeing the affairs/activities of the church and to feed/guide/shepherd and tend to the needs of the brethren who are gathered together there (Acts 20:28; 1 Thess 5:12-13; 1 Tim 5:17; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1-4). 

2. In giving the list of qualities that prospective candidates for eldership should possess, it is quite apparent that many of these qualities ought to characterize those who are disciples of Christ. One should not read these qualities as only uniquely required of elders and that all brethren who are not elders are somehow exempted from cultivating such qualities. 


Some of the qualifications required are indeed specifically applicable for serving as elders – such as being “husband of one wife” – as one can be a faithful Christian without being married (1 Cor 7:7-9,40). But one cannot serve as an elder if one is not married as he would also not be able to meet the requirement of having ruled his household well having his children in submission with all reverence” (1 Tim3: 4).

3. Someone asked since, “a bishop then must be the husband of one wife” (1 Tim3:2), does that not suggest that non-bishops/elders or Christians generally may have more than one wife?

a. The way to ascertain whether the above interpretation or understanding of the text is warranted or not, is to consider the immediate context as well as the total context of the Scriptures.  The Psalmist declares in Psa 119:160 (NASB): “The sum of Your word is truth”. God’s Word must be understood in its totality: “So the word of the Lord to them will be, order on order, order on order, line on line, line on line, a little here, a little there” (Isa 28:13). This is because the truth, God’s Word (John 17:17), does not contradict itself. 


b. What does the Bible teach about marriage? God designed marriage to be between “one man with one woman for life” (Gen 2:24). Jesus asked in Matt 19:4-6: “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore, what God has joined together, let not man separate.”


Note that God did not make “three or more to become one flesh”.  He said that “the two shall become one flesh”.   


Those living under the Old Testament had deviated from God’s original design for marriage when they divorced their wives, and some even had more than one wife. But Jesus explained in Matt 19:8-9: “He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not soAnd I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marriesanother, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.”


In comparing the Jewish Christians’ relationship with the Law of Moses and their new relationship with Christ, Paul wrote that they had “died” to the Law so as to be freed to be joined to Christ (Rom 7:1-4) because it was not permissible for them to be joined to the Law as well as to Christ at the same time.  Paul clearly implied that one could not be married to more than one person at the same time: “So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man.” (Rom 7:3; 1 Cor7:39).

c. Since it is the case that under the New Covenant, the Bible teaches that marriage is to be “one man with one woman for life” then Paul could not have meant in 1 Tim 3:2 that other than for an elder (who is to be a “husband of one wife”), all others may have more than one wife.  


How then are we to understand what Paul meant?

d. As is obvious from the immediate context of 1 Tim 3:1-7, when Paul stated the required qualities, he was merely emphasizing the importance of the qualities that the elders ought to have – and not that he was permitting others (i.e. non-elders) to disregard having these qualities themselves


For example, elders are to be “temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable”. Are Christians who are not elders or not aspiring to be elders exempted from being “temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable”?The bible requires all to be “temperate” (Titus 2:2; 1 Cor 9:25), “sober-minded” (1 Thess 5:6; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet 5:8), “of good behavior” (Titus 2:10; 1 Pet 2:12) and “hospitable” (1 Pet 4:9). 


It is obvious therefore that Paul was merely emphasizing that “all the more so”, elders who are to exercise oversight of the church must exhibit these attributes as they are to be examples to the flock (1 Pet 5:3) and not that others need not have such attributes – in light of the other Scriptures.

e. Bro Kerry Duke explains it very well when commenting on a similar required quality: 


“Not given to much wine” has been used to attempt to prove the (drinking in) moderation view for many years.  This phrase occurs in I Timothy 3:8 and in Titus 2:3. The argument is that since this expression forbids drinking much wine, then drinking a little wine is biblical.  But this is emphatic language.  It does not imply that drinking in moderation is permissible; it simply makes the point in strong terms.  This language is common in Scripture.  God was “not well pleased” with the rebellious Israelites in the wilderness (I Cor. 10:5).  Does this mean God was a little pleased with them?  Paul warned his readers not to be “soon shaken in mind” (II Thess. 2:2). Does he imply that they could be shaken in mind if they did not do so soon?  When James said to lay aside “overflow of wickedness” (NKJV) or “superfluity of naughtiness” (KJV) in James 1:21, does he mean we can be wicked as long as we do not overflow with it?  Jesus warned about being “overcharged” (KJV) or “weighed down” with carousing and drunkenness (Luke 21:34).  Does He mean one can get drunk and carouse as long as he is not “weighed down” with these sins?  In the same way, I Timothy 3:8 and Titus 2:3 do not imply that the use of a little wine is acceptable.  This expression simply calls attention to the particular sin mentioned. As to the question of drinking moderate amounts of wine in contrast with drinking much wine, we must turn to other passages for the answer, and there are verses that address this matter” (Quoted from Kerry Duke posted at http://www.westendcofc.org/wineskins-with-holes.html)

4. Let’s be careful how we understand the scriptures and do not be like the “untaught and unstable people (who) twist (the Scriptures) to their own destruction” (2 Pet 3:16).

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