15 Feb 2010
God’s Faithful Man Must Be Blameless
© 2010, Gary Sanseri
“Wearing the white flower of a blameless life,
Before a thousand peering littlenesses,
In that fierce light which beats upon a throne,
And blackens every blot.”
Alfred, Lord Tennyson
Idylls of the King
We live in an age where character in leadership means nothing. The scandals in the White House (1992-1999) and President Clinton’s administration cause us to shake our heads in disbelief. Such behavior from the Chief Executive should have led to a national outcry for his removal from office. Other questionable behavior commonly occurs on both sides of the political aisle. In his farewell address to the United States in 1796, George Washington declared:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man ought to respect and to cherish them.”
John Adams, second president of the United States, concurred with Washington and believed that, “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” In light of this common understanding and with a shared distaste for persecution, the Framers of our national constitution included no stipulated moral or religious requirements for holding public office in the United States Government. To occupy a seat in the House of Representatives one need only reach twenty-five years of age, live as a citizen of the United States for seven years and reside in the state he represents. Similarly, to serve in the Senate one need only attain his thirtieth year, live as a citizen of the United States nine years and reside in the state where elected for office.
The Constitution limits the requirements for holding the highest office in the land, i.e. President, to natural-born citizenship, reaching one’s thirty-fifth year and residing in the United States fourteen years. Article VI, paragraph 3 of the Constitution specifically states that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” The Framers undoubtedly included this Article to restrain religious persecution and keep any one sect from dominating the Federal government. Oliver Ellsworth expressed this sentiment when he answered certain critics of the “no religious test” clause on December 17, 1787, saying, “But my countrymen, the sole purpose and effect of it [no religious test] is to exclude persecution and to secure to you the important right of religious liberty…. Test-laws are useless and ineffectual, unjust and tyrannical; therefore the Convention have done wisely in excluding this engine of persecution, and providing that no religious test shall ever be required.” In addition others believed that the people, “from a regard to their own safety, will choose for their rulers men of known abilities, of known probity, and of good moral characters.”
Leaders should exemplify the highest standards of moral conduct, yet with such minimal requirements for public office as contained in the United States Constitution should the citizens find it surprising when those in government positions commit immoral and reproachful indecencies. On the positive side, the Constitution provides for the removal from public office (President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States) for conviction of treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors. (See Article II, Section 4.) In addition, Article III, Section 1 stipulates that judges “shall hold their Offices during good behavior…” implying their removal from the court for bad conduct.” As religion (Christianity) and morality depart from leadership expect government to grow worse. Character matters and the Christian religion promotes the highest standards of moral conduct for both governors and people as George Washington noted:
“And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. ‘Tis substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
We can understand that unregenerate, unconverted persons, in and out of leadership positions, fall into grievous sin. Unfortunately, a similar lack of morality and character prevails among Christian leaders. Numerous pastors cheat on their wives, abandon or mistreat their children, become drunkards, disdain the ministry, give themselves to the love of money, are quarrelsome, violent, quick-tempered, inhospitable, undisciplined and generally live abominable lives. They should, however, live blamelessly with good reputations. This study is designed to equip men, both young and old, to become faithful leaders in the home, church, and society by building godly character based on those qualifications outlined for pastors in Titus and 1 Timothy.
When the Apostle Paul writes to Titus he instructs him to ordain or appoint elders (presbyters) or bishops in every city to shepherd, oversee and lead the church. Paul stipulates the character qualities required of those men appointed to such service. These characteristics should flow from every Christian man’s life, but especially from those in leadership. Pastors influence entire congregations. Fathers affect whole households and presidents, governors and public representatives impact nations. All male believers serving the role of pastor, husband, father or civil magistrate must live circumspectly.
In both his letters to Titus (Titus 1:6) and Timothy (1Timothy 3:2) Paul begins his instruction on male qualifications for church leadership with the Christian virtue of blamelessness. The word used in Titus 1:6 comes from anenkletos and means “that which cannot be called to account; with nothing laid to one’s charge resulting from public investigation; the absence of a charge or accusation against a person. It refers to an elder’s current state. The word indicates that a leader’s reputation must be above reproach and free from accusation. It does not mean an elder must be faultless or sinless, but he must be without scandal in his public and private life. The Puritan, Thomas Taylor, said the word “means one to whom no man can justly lay doubt or question, or taint with any infamy or crime.” Paul uses the same word as a qualification for deacons in 1Timothy 3:10.
Paul uses the word in Colossians 1:22 to signify the new condition brought about by Christ, through His death. Believers, once alienated enemies of Christ and the gospel, have been reconciled to God because of Christ’s selfless sacrifice. He now presents us (believers) as holy and blameless above reproach in the sight of God. This means that due to what Christ accomplished on the cross and through His resurrection, no accusation or charge can be laid upon the believer.
Christ Himself confirms or makes the Christian secure to the end, preserving him or her blameless in the day of His glorious appearing. In that day no accusation will be brought against a believer. We are confident of this because God is faithful who called us into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord (1Corinthians 1:8).
Writing to Timothy (1Timothy 3:2), Paul employs another word, anepilemptos, to convey the idea of blamelessness. This word carries the meaning, “that cannot be laid hold of; not open to censure; irreproachable; unassailable.” One who is blameless “cannot be attacked (even by non-Christians) because of his moral conduct.” Anepilemptos, “blameless” is accompanied by the word dei, “must or necessary” stressing emphatically that living blamelessly or without openness to censure is absolutely required for elders, presbyters, pastors and bishops. Pastors, elders, civil rulers, fathers and any other man in a leadership position should consider Paul’s words and take them to heart. Those who govern, especially in the church, must conduct their lives free from threat of censure and reproach. When rulers and leaders live scandalous lives they not only bring accusation and reproach upon themselves, their wives and children, but also to the whole church. Church leaders must be above the threat of official rebuke or blame for immoral or criminal behavior.
Christian Reputation: Every believer must bear a Christ-like testimony. We are to “do all things without complaining and disputing” (Philippians 2:14). Murmuring or questioning God regarding the providential circumstances of our life or the duties we are to perform as Christians causes our reputation to suffer. Acting without complaint and criticism leads to our “becoming blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we] shine as lights in the world” (Philippians 2:15). Christians are in a continual process of spiritual growth leading to blamelessness or a life free from justified criticism and accusation due to overt public sin and evil. Our testimony before God and in the midst of a crooked, perverse, morally twisted and deviant generation is to be above reproach. As believers we must shine as lights in a world filled with spiritual darkness. Likewise, Christian leaders must take special care to preserve their reputations without blame and be above reproach.
Public Reputation: For the Christian, Christ is special. He is to be “sanctified” or “set apart” in the believer’s heart (1Peter 3:15). Christ occupies our innermost being in a way and capacity different from any other person or thing. Our heart is to be sincerely devoted to His worship and service. This devotion to Christ should be evident even in public before unbelievers who may be compelled to ask us the reason for the hope that we have. Christians are to be prepared to give an answer. If we carry a bad testimony and evil conscience unbelievers will only accuse us of evil, hypocrisy and wickedness. Our lives must be blameless and above reproach before the world so that we may put to shame those who accuse us falsely of wrong doing (1Peter 3:16). Christian leaders, above all, must be blameless in the public eye. Then they will be able, with a good conscience, to tell others of the blessed hope they possess in Christ.
Church Reputation: Peter instructs elders in the church to “shepherd the flock of God… serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over the those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1Peter 5:2-3). Elders, as shepherds, feed the flock of Christ. They spiritually nourish God’s sheep with sound teaching from His word. As overseers, elders protect the sheep from deviating from the truth and embracing false teachings from ravenous wolves. They deliver the flock from divisive persons within the sheepfold. They perform their work with a willing attitude absent from the desire for unwarranted financial gain. Faithful church leaders abstain from lording it over the flock, refusing to use their position to dominate, manipulate, intimidate and coerce the sheep. Good elders serve as examples to the church. Their lives reflect a pattern that the sheep can follow. In short, elders must be blameless and above reproach, living as exemplary leaders.
The Importance of Setting a Good Example
In the days of Hosea the prophet, God uttered words of severe judgment against Israel for her repeated spiritual harlotry and violations of His law. King Solomon laid the foundation for such harlotry when he loved many foreign women and took them as wives. They “turned away his heart… after other gods” so that he became disloyal to the LORD his God. Because he violated God’s covenant and commandments, the Lord tore the kingdom away from Solomon (1Kings 11:1-13). God spared neither priest nor people for Hosea declared, “and it shall be: like people, like priest” (Hosea 4:9). Men called to lead God’s people should exemplify moral character and obedience to His covenant and commandments. Too often leaders set a bad example. They become like the people and the people follow them into all manner of corruption. John Calvin comments:
“I [God] will spare neither the one nor the other; for the priest has abused the honor conferred on him; for though divinely appointed over the Church for this purpose, to preserve the people in piety and holy life, he has yet broken through and violated every right principle: and then the people themselves wished to have such teachers.”
For their evil ways and deeds, God warned of punishment and a just reward for both the people and the priests. God’s appointed leaders must set an example of good works and obedience to His laws and ordinances. They should guide the people aright and consider the folly of leading them astray. Such folly earns the displeasure and chastening rod of Almighty God. Christ said, “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6). Great blessing comes when leaders guide by godly, blameless, irreproachable example, as the Puritan, Jeremiah Burroughs observed:
“If ministers continue painful, faithful, conscientious, it is very rare but that they bring people to some kind of obedience or other. Very few such ministers have lived any time in any place, but have left some savor of their spirits discoverable afterwards in their people.”
Students tend to follow and imitate their teachers. Indeed, teachers strive to get their disciples to follow their example and ideas. “Everyone who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40). History reveals this axiom. Greek philosophers taught their students to think like them. Military leaders expected their soldiers to fight their way. Dictators and revolutionaries demand complete adherence to their standards. Students and disciples are not above their masters. They tend to be like them. J.C. Ryle put it this way:
“He [Christ] then seems to foresee the common objection that it does not follow because our teachers go astray that we shall go astray also. ‘Beware of that delusion,’ He seems to say. ‘Disciples must not be expected to see more clearly than their teachers. The scholar will become as perfect as his master, but not more so. He will certainly copy his errors, and reproduce his faults. If you choose to follow blind guides, do not wonder if you never get beyond them, and if you share in their final ruin.”
The Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day loved positions of leadership in the synagogues and communities. They gloried in traveling by land and sea to gain a single proselyte to follow their lead. In the end they made him twice the son of hell as themselves (Matthew 23:15). These leaders of the Jews loved the best places at the feasts and celebrations and relished the accolade, ‘Rabbi, Rabbi.’ Jesus warned His disciples and brethren not to follow their deceitful example but rather to look to one as ‘teacher,’ that is Christ and follow Him. True leadership and greatness in His kingdom means becoming a servant (Matthew 23:6-11). Faithful leaders who follow Christ set an example by serving the brethren.
Unlike the Scribes and Pharisees, the Disciples of Christ, “though uneducated and untrained,” were recognized as men who had “been with Jesus.” They had become like their teacher, setting an example for others to follow. The apostle Paul counted all things loss and rubbish in order that he might gain Christ. He strove for the goal of the upward call of God in Christ. He enjoined the brethren to follow his example and to note those who walked likewise because they set the pattern for all the Church to follow (Philippians 3:17). Their lives travel a distinct course of blamelessness opposed to the enemies of the cross of Christ who fix their minds on earthly things and whose end is destruction (Philippians 3:19). Godly, irreproachable leaders follow Paul as he followed Christ. They set their minds on heavenly things leaving all an example to imitate.
1. George Washington, “Farewell Address” in George Washington: A Collection, ed. W.B. Allen (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1988), p. 521.
2. John Adams, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, Charles Francis Adams, editor (Boston: Little, Brown, and Co. 1854), Vol. IX, p. 229, October 11,1798. (Quoted from: http://www.wallbuilders.com/ resources/search/detail.php? Resource ID=21.)
3. Philip Kurland and Ralph Lerner, ed. The Founders’ Constitution: Volume 4, Article 2; Section 2, through Article 7 (1987 rpt. Indianapolis, IN: Liberty Fund, No Date), pp. 639-641.
4. Ibid. p. 643.
5. George Washington. p. 521.
6. It should be noted that in this study the words pastor (poimen), elder/presbyter (presbuteros), bishop (episkopos) and deacon (diakonos) are used interchangeably as the character qualities discussed apply to all men who serve in the church under any of these titles.
7. The author assumes the Biblical teaching of male leadership. This book does not attempt to prove this presupposition. Those interested in investigating the male/female debate in church leadership should read Wayne Grudem, Evangelical Feminism: A New Path to Liberalism (Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books, 2006); Countering the Claims of Evangelical Feminism (Colorado Springs, Colorado: Multnomah Publishers, 2006); Evangelical Feminism & Biblical Truth (Sisters, Oregon: Multnomah Publishers, 2004); and the author’s book, Covered or Uncovered: How 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 Applies to Worship & Leadership in the Church (Portland, Oregon: Back Home Industries, 1999).
8. W.E. Vine, Vine’s Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, ed. W.E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger and William White Jr. (New York: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1985), p. 68.
9. Thomas Taylor, Exposition of Titus (1619; rpt. Minneapolis, MN: Klock & Klock, 1980), p. 85.
10. Vine. P. 68.
11. Geoffrey Bromiley, ed. Theological Dictionary of the New Testament: Volume IV (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1967 rpt. 2006), p. 9.
12. John Calvin, Hosea (1846; rpt. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), p. 156.
13. Jeremiah Burroughs, A Commentary on the Prophecy of Hosea, (rpt. Beaver Falls, PA: Soli Deo Publications, No Date), p. 231.
14. J.C. Ryle, Expository Thoughts on Luke: Volume 1, (1858; rpt. Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), pp. 193-194.