Thursday, October 11, 2007

Finding Reliable Men: Temperate, Self-Controlled, Respectable

I don't much like walking through malls. I guess I'm the stereotypical male. I storm through to the one (at the most three) stores that potentially have what I'm searching for, select the item, and then escape the whole harrowing experience through the closest exit.

"Vanity fair" is such a dangerous place to hang out. Of all that could be said about malls, this is certainly true: they do not exist to promote sober-mindedness and self-control. Advertisements, displays, samples, music--the entire experience is meant to separate a person from their wallets in the most intemperate and out-of-control way as possible. Sobriety is disdained. Self-control flung off.

Over and against the materialistic orgies of the local mall, there stands the call of Scripture to Christians to be sober and self-controlled, to be good stewards, and conquerors of their flesh. And not surprisingly, the Apostle Paul in 1 Tim. 3:2 insists that those who are to be leaders in the church, elders or pastors, are to be people who are temperate and self-control. They are to be examples for the flock in this regard.

The word nephalios, translated variously as "temperate" (NIV), "sober-minded" (ESV), and "vigilant" includes the idea of being watchful or circumspect. It is to be free from excessive influence of passion, lust or emotion. The Lord calls his undershepherds to be sober in their desires, feelings, and attitudes. He is a person that places limitations on his own freedom. He's not drunk with wine, power, lusts or anything else. He doesn't understand every situation to be a paper bag to punch your way through.

Which enables the next qualification, self-control. The terms are closely related and aim generally at the same thing: an elder must be a person who bridles himself. He must control his internal state (emotions, etc.) and his outward actions. He is decent in conduct. He is not rash or unthinking, but sensible, discreet and wise. Foolish actors are unfit for leadership in the Lord's church.

A sober and self-controlled man is a respectable man. They live godly, ordered lives. And these are the qualifications necessary to shepherding the flock of God. Well, what are some ways of spotting such men in the church?

Observations and Questions (please add others)

1. Does the potential elder teach other men to live as they live? This is the essential calling of the elder (Titus 2:2). The elder candidate should be one noted for encouraging sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable behavior in others.

2. Is a man trendy? Is he a lover of fads, bouncing from one "new" thing to another? A man who is trendy and places emphasis on novelty by definition is one controlled by things outside himself. His appetite is for the ever-changing, ever-elusive "next great idea." He may be "down" with the coolest in the congregation, but the very basis of that acceptance is the kind of instability that works against sobriety, watchfulness, and self-control. We might see this in his style of dress or other purchases (cars, etc.). While we don't wish to be prudish about such things, trendiness in these outward things ought to be noted because they may be early warning signs of trendiness in the more important world of ideas. Is this a man that chases or seriously considers adopting every new church fad or "model" for doing church? Is he drawn to novel theological ideas? Trendiness has nearly destroyed the church from within. Those things are to be avoided. Instead, we're to look for men who are steadfast in their resistance to fads and trends and who adopt a consistently sound biblical view of themselves, the world, and God. We're looking for classic, well-worn pin stripe suits rather than the latest Paris, avante-garde couture.

3. Are the man's appetites balanced? Is there any place where he is given to excess? Foods? Alcohol? Negative emotions like anger? Or, does he restrain himself, exercising control and demonstrating contentment in all things? Men addicted to alcohol, drugs, sex or other things are not suitable candidates for the office of elder.

4. We should take note of the man's actions and reactions in various situations. How does he behave when things are going well? Is he self-controlled, praising the Lord, but not abusing his prosperity at the moment? Likewise, what is his demeanor and conduct when things are really tough? Does he handle suffering in a composed way? Does he persevere in adversity, not losing control to fear, resentment, or cowardice? Is the man a complainer? A complainer may be a man imbalanced in his desires, as he constantly assumes things should be done his way or at least a "different" way.

5. Do others respect how this man lives his life? Are his enemies unable to condemn him and ashamed in the face of his life and witness (Titus 2:7-8)?


The ministry and the church are always examined by those within and outside. Her enemies look for things to condemn and opportunities to slander. Churches are greatly helped in this onslaught when her leaders are respectable in their conduct and men of sound judgment.


Tree Newt said...

I'm going back and reading your posts on reliable men, and I must tell you that they are challenging and a blessing at the same time. I find myself looking at my own life and the ways I fall short of Paul's characteristics. Thanks for writing.

Anonymous said...

Thabiti, I love your blog; you have a certain love for Christ's church and I have your book, The African Preacher. With that, I have a slight difference with you regarding the definition of nephalious. The work is a negation. It literally means "no drinker." This has to do with alcohol. It means to be "wineless." This accords well with the overall biblical emphasis on teachers/ministers/leaders to refrain from alcoholic beverages. This is a touchy subject, I know; but one that I believe is important nonetheless.

Anonymous said...


I have very much appreciated this series thus far. As a young man who has a desire to pursue the ministry of the Kingdom as a pastor/elder, your articles here and other books that my pastors have given me have proven to be a ready and necessary challenge to me.

That said, I'd like to kindly dissent with our Baptist Historian above. Perhaps "nephalious" may LITERALLY mean "no drinker" or something of that order, but I believe that the historical context, the literary context of Paul's writings, and the majority understanding in the history of hermeneutics would argue against an alcohol-abstinent requirement in the case of the eldership qualifications. Just my thoughts there.

In the Shadow of the Cross,
David Ketter