May 16, 2019
Titus 1:5-7 (NLT)
I left you on the island of Crete so you could complete our work there and appoint elders in each town as I instructed you. An elder must live a blameless life. He must be faithful to his wife, and his children must be believers who don’t have a reputation for being wild or rebellious. A church leader is a manager of God’s household, so he must live a blameless life. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered; he must not be a heavy drinker, violent, or dishonest with money.
Almost one year ago I knelt at the altar as my wife, my two oldest daughters, other pastors, and our bishop laid their hands on my head and shoulders. Then the bishop said, “Almighty God, pour upon Omar Hamid Al-Rikabi the Holy Spirit, for the office and work of an elder in Christ’s holy church.”
Then I placed my hand on a Bible, and my younger daughter started to rub my back as the bishop continued: “Omar take authority as an elder to preach the Word of God, to administer the Holy Sacraments, and to order the life of the Church; in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.”
And just like that, I was ordained. But not really “just like that.” This moment was the culmination of years of seminary education, written examinations, psychological evaluations, church evaluations, residency, oral examinations, and lots and lots of other qualifications that led many of us to call this journey “ordination purgatory.”
But for better or worse, the system is set up to make sure ordination is not just given on a whim for the men and women called to lead the church.
After Paul and Titus were shipwrecked on Crete some kind of ministry happened because Paul sailed on and left Titus to find local leaders for new churches in a pagan land. And he starts off by listing a set of basic qualifications to lead.
Now, this is where we can veer off into a debate about what this list means for pastors and church leaders today. Some seem like “no duh” kind of obvious, but how many pastors today have been divorced? Or how many reading this now have a wry smile because they were once the stereotypical “preacher’s kid?” Why doesn’t Paul say anything about elders not sacrificing their families on the altar of ministry? And really, who among us is fully blameless?
There is much that could be said and debated about the culture and climate Titus was in versus what the church is like today. So is this list specifically for elders in first century Crete, also for official clergy today, or for all of us?
To answer this we need to go back to the Old Testament, so stick with me here.
In the Old Testament, the priests ran the Temple, and their primary job was to create space for God’s people to worship, offer sacrifices, and teach the Law.
In other words, the priests were the mediators between God and humanity. This is summed up in Hebrews 5:1 & 4: “Every high priest is a man chosen to represent other people in their dealings with God. He presents their gifts to God and offers sacrifices for their sins… And no one can become a high priest simply because he wants such an honor. He must be called by God for this work.”
There were also purity rules for priests that echo Paul’s list for elders (see Leviticus 21). And by the time we get to today’s text Paul is talking about the evolution from priest to elder. Different titles, but the same basic call: to lead the people in worship and preaching. In another letter, Paul says, “Elders who do their work well should be respected and paid well, especially those who work hard at both preaching and teaching” (1 Timothy 5:17).
So if an elder was a leader of the church called to preach and teach, this takes us back to our original question: is this list specifically for elders in first century Crete, also for official clergy today, or for all of us?
Yes. The answer is yes.
The big takeaway from the list in today’s text is this: If you’re called to lead, then how you live, both private and public, matter. In leadership character has always mattered.
And we’re all called to lead.
Now please hear me: we haven’t all been called to be the leader, but we’ve all been called to lead.
Part of the downside of the church today is the clergy/non-clergy distinction. Through Jesus Christ all believers are temples of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Corinthians 6:19), and we are all called to offer ourselves as a living sacrifice to God as an act of worship (see Romans 12:1). Sound familiar?
Yep. We’re all priests. We’re all called to the work of elders to preach and teach with our lives. We’re all called to be mediators between God and others: “You are royal priests, a holy nation, God’s very own possession. As a result, you can show others the goodness of God, for he called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
That’s why today’s text is for all of us, because character matters.
Now before we run off and hold Paul’s list over others who fall short, or shrink back from our calling because of our shortcomings, remember what Hebrews 5:2-3 says in the midst of describing the priesthood: “And he [the priest] is able to deal gently with ignorant and wayward people because he himself is subject to the same weaknesses. This is why he has to offer sacrifices for his own sins, as well as for the sins of the people.”
Because character matters… and so does grace.
Jesus, you abide in me and I abide in you. I confess to you that my character is a work in progress towards holiness. Let you grace fill in the gaps where my character needs help so that my life can show others the goodness of God. Amen.
Where do you see your “priestly role,” and what is God working out in your character for that role?
For the awakening,