Have you observed how the “old man” tends to expose itself at the worst possible times? Naturally this could amount to just about any of the acts of the sinful nature. Once I wrote about a lecturer when I was at Bible School. He was a great guy and helped me tremendously is so many ways. Once in a lecture he was saying that we all have “dents” from our before Christ life. These “dents” he said manifest themselves at times as we walk through our Christian life. I as a young Christian battled to grasp what he meant. You see, Bible School students are the “most holy creatures on earth” because they cannot see the real world. Then, on one occasion he burst out in anger due to a student’s persistent disrespect. Suddenly it dawned on me that this was one of the “dents” he was referring to. This was his continual struggle in life … and I have come to realize that I too have “dents” that I need to struggle with in my Christian pilgrimage. Under inspiration, Paul writes:
Eph 4:22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.
There is a “putting off” and there is a “putting on”. Never underestimate how hard it is to do this with every “dent” we have. Some are easier to remove and others are more difficult. An elder is human, although saved by grace. He is on the Lord’s side, yet he like anyone else has dents. Having said this though, he needs to try all the more to be made new in his mind because he leads the people of God. Elders are to be examples, manifesting the attributes of the Lord Jesus, whom they serve. The passage we have been working through reads:
1Ti 3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
Today we come to …
1) The elder must not be violent but gentle. The word “violent” means “striker”. This seems to indicate a person who, when becoming angry, resorts to a physical fight, be it in public or private. Elders need to allow God to fight their fights because their cause is the Lord’s. In place of violence he needs to be “gentle”, which means reasonable. It is the opposite of being stubborn and requiring the full letter of the law being applied. That is, unrelenting! His example and model is the Lord Jesus who says of Himself:
Mt 11:29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart.
An illustration of this is:
Jn 8:3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him. But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. 7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her.” 8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. 9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” 11 “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
It is so easy to judge a situation harshly or in anger such as the Jewish teachers of the Law. They wanted this lady caught in the act of adultery killed … and wanted Jesus’ opinion on their decision. He did the absolute opposite to what they wanted. You see, He looked past the woman’s sin to her need. She needed salvation … she needed to be forgiven and that is what He did … neither do I condemn you … but quickly added she go and live in repentance … Go now and leave your life of sin.
Do you see how gentle He was with her? He did not apply the Law rigidly as the teachers of the Law wanted. He looked at her heart, saw her need and responded correctly. Whilst an elder must hold to the Word of God as his only guide and authority, each case needs to be weighed on merit without losing Gospel requirements. Jesus was forthright with this woman. She knew that He knew she was an adulterous. There was no question as to her infidelity and she knew as did Jesus what the Law required … stoning to death. Remember Stephen was stoned for “blasphemy”. It was a practice. However Jesus did see her sin … Go now and leave your life of sin … yet He forgave her because He saw her deep need … the need of a new heart.
It is very easy for the elder to be rigid, becoming angry and apply the Word strictly. That would be like these Jews who wanted blood for sin without looking into their own heart. Jesus hit the nail on the head when He said … If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her. An elder must understand his own proneness to sin and Jesus’ readiness to forgive. It is hypocrisy to apply different standards to the congregation when Jesus’ standard starts with forgiveness and the instruction to repent … to leave the sinful lifestyle. This is why the word “gentle” needs to be seen as reasonable for an elder needs to use reason when evaluating a person who might not be living or following the Scriptures adequately. His love for God must influence his love for the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed him as an overseer to care for, protect and disciple.
Our Father, those dents we carry with us can get in the way of our service for You. Help all elders to be gentle, reasonable and considerate as they fulfil their task of overseeing the flock of Jesus Christ. Amen.