Theme: Christian Leaders
In this week’s study, we look at the office of elder and deacon, and note the importance of Christian leadership, both in the church and in other callings we have received from God.
Scripture: 1 Timothy 3:1-13
We could characterize these first two chapters of 1 Timothy as being marked by strong doctrine. In chapter 1, Paul contrasted the sound doctrine of Scripture with what is false. He knew that there were false teachings circulating and he wanted Timothy to be on his guard against them to make sure that the churches with which he was involved maintained biblical teaching. Paul talked about it in a personal way because after encouraging Timothy to remain strong in doctrine, he goes on to show that this is the very doctrine that had produced his conversion and delivered him from his mistaken zeal for God in persecuting the church, which was actually working against God and his saving plan.
Then in the second chapter, Paul goes on to focus on the heart of this doctrine—namely, that God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ, who is our only mediator, and through whom alone we have salvation. Paul didn’t make the mistake, however, of thinking that for the health of the church all you need is sound doctrine. Paul is also concerned with people on a personal level, which leads to our passage for this week.
Therefore, having spoken in the first two chapters about strong doctrine, he goes on in chapter 3 to speak about strong leadership. This is important because the doctrines need to make their way in the church through those whom God calls to particular forms of service. So when we think about the church, whether in Paul’s day or in ours, leadership is an area in which we want to concentrate as well.
Now it shouldn’t be hard for us to appreciate the value of leadership, particularly now in America in the midst of a presidential campaign. One of the things we do during a presidential election season is decide whether those who put themselves forward as leaders actually have the quality of leaders, the kind of men that we would like to see serve in the highest levels of government, and particularly in the presidency. However, we have a certain ambiguity in America about national leadership, which we see in the church as well. We’re a very egalitarian society. We like to think that everybody is equal, that nobody should be too prominent or too high above his fellows. And, therefore, anybody who comes on too strong as a leader is immediately suspicious.
It’s alright to put yourself out as a leader, but people expect you to act as if you can identify with the common man, as opposed to appear detached and above everyone else.
I see it in a smaller way in the church. I know as a pastor that if things don’t go well, somebody’s bound to say, “Why doesn’t the pastor do something?” On the other hand, if things go well, but contrary to what some people think they should be, then the leaders are accused in other ways. Obviously, we need leadership, but at the same time it has to be a certain kind of leadership. And if that’s true nationally in politics, it’s most certainly true in the fellowship of the people of God.
Isn’t it true that in Christian circles, we often have a distrust of leadership? We don’t want to see anybody lead too vigorously, and sometimes we protest that this kind of leadership is worldly. People like that suggest that what we want to do is wait upon God. Well, by all means, we must wait upon God, but God does work through people. And when we turn to the Scriptures and study those whom God has been gracious enough to use, we find not a collection of weaklings, but, rather, a collection of strong leaders who, by the grace of God, were enabled both by those characteristics given to them by God, and the direction that God gave, to lead the people in difficult times.
Abraham was a leader. He was not a political leader in the sense of being a king. Nor was he a religious leader in the sense of being a prophet or a priest. But as a patriarch he was a leader. At the call of God, he took his people out from their own country and went out into another land that was foreign to them. He was a strong figure and became, by his faith, a father of the faithful.
Or consider Moses, who was one of the greatest leaders of all time. He was raised in Egypt as the adopted son of Pharaoh’s daughter with all the advantages of an Egyptian education and royal privilege. Some people have suggested that because of this, there was even the possibility that he might have become one of the pharaohs. Yet he turned his back on that, identifying with his people, because he heard the call of God to that kind of leadership. He led his people through the wilderness for forty years, which was no easy task because of the rebellion of the people.
What two themes do we see in the first three chapters of 1 Timothy? How are they connected?
Why are leaders, including those in the church, sometimes viewed suspiciously?
Reflection: What kind of leadership qualities and characteristics does the world tend to value? How does that compare with qualities and characteristics for leaders in the church?