Elders — Part One
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Elders — Part One

From Series: Get It Right!, Volume 1

Titus 1:5-9  (ID: 2870)

Browse through any book on leadership, and you’re likely to read that good leaders are marked by giftedness, personality, and organizational skills. But when Paul urged Titus to appoint elders in the church at Crete, he provided a very different list of qualifications. In this study from Titus 1, Alistair Begg walks us through Paul’s recommendations, noting that since elders shepherd the church by teaching and guarding the truth, they should first demonstrate godly leadership in their own households.


Sermon Transcript: Print

We’re going to read from Titus chapter 1. If you would like to use one of our church Bibles and are unfamiliar with your way around the Bible, then you’ll find this reading on page 998. I encourage you to turn to the Bible, as always, so that you can see that what is being said is actually in the Bible. You don’t ever want to take that for granted. And we’ll read from verse 5. Titus 1:5:

“This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

“For there are many who are insubordinate, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision party. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach. One of the Cretans, a prophet of their own, said, ‘Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.’ This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not devoting themselves to Jewish myths and the commands of people who turn away from the truth. To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their works. They[’re] detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

Thanks be to God for his Word.

We pray:

O Lord, we pray that with our Bibles open before us, you will open our minds that we might be able to think properly, that you will open our hearts that we might receive the truth humbly, and that you will so constrain our wills that our lives might be brought into subjection to your truth, to the glorious freedom that comes from doing what we ought, by the power of the Holy Spirit. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Well, as you know, we are studying Titus at the moment, and we have noted the fact that Paul has left Titus in position in the island of Crete in order that, as we saw last time, the churches there might be marked by tidiness and by healthiness and by attractiveness: the tidiness that is represented in putting things in order, à la verse 5; the healthiness which is identified by the doctrine that is then being understood and believed and proclaimed; and the attractiveness which then emerges from the lives of those who are living in the light of the aforementioned.

And it is obvious from the text that leadership is the absolute priority in seeking to establish each of these things. Because if the leadership is wrong, then everything else will be wrong with it. This is true within the home, in terms of mums and dads, who have jurisdiction over their children, despite the fact that our society suggests increasingly that that is not the case and ought not to be the case. If we’re going to accept what the Bible says, then we recognize that God, who has established the nuclear family, has not only put it in place but has also said how it works, and there is an order of leadership in that home which, when neglected, brings with it all kinds of sorry chaos. When it is overstated, it may bring with it all kinds of unhappy authoritarianism and autocracy. When it is applied by the power of the Holy Spirit in concurrence with what the Scriptures teach, then it is a lovely thing to behold.

There was an article in yesterday’s Wall Street, and we were reading it, Sue and I, I think just last evening. I was reading it out loud, and it was an article—you may have seen it—about a lady who had taken her children on a trip, or one of them, and the child had run amok in the airport, and it really was a sorry tale of woe. And I think, essentially, the lady was saying, “So you see, that’s what happens when you have children—you know, they’re just completely out of control.” And in actual fact, what it was—it was a story about a mother who’s completely out of control and actually has no idea what she ought to be doing with her little daughter. And it is representative, increasingly, of the world in which we live.

And what happens, of course, is that as the New Testament argues from the family, the nuclear family, into the church family and vice versa, where it breaks down in a culture in the family, you find that it spills over very quickly into the church—so that the same resistance that you have to parental rule, to parental responsibility, to parental dictation of the events, you then find translates itself into the local church, when you consider leadership, and eldership in particular. Families are growing up saying, “But I had to call my father by his first name. My mother is an equal to me. I have no reason to submit to her authority.” And so, when you reproduce that in a local congregation, then you realize just how vital it is that people understand that what we’re doing is we’re doing what the Bible actually says. Most problems—most unsolved problems—in a local church can be traced to defective leadership—can be traced to defective leadership, almost without exception.

So, notice that this is a priority, and it is an absolute necessity that the elders would be appointed in every town as Paul had directed him. If you read through the Acts of the Apostles, you will see that very quickly, elders were being put in place in the church. So, at the end of Acts chapter 11, it is obvious to us that within fifteen years from the time of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, there was already a leadership structure in place in the congregations in Jerusalem. And as you read through Paul on his missionary journeys, you find that he is not only going, first of all, to evangelize, but in many cases he is coming back in order to make sure that those who have now professed faith in Jesus, these fledgling groups of individuals, will then be galvanized and structured within the framework of leadership as God intends. And you can read that, for your benefit, all the way through.

The Function of Elders

Now, one of the questions that always emerges when you address the issue of eldership is in terms of its terminology. And our English translations of the Bible don’t necessarily help us in this regard, because they translate words variously. And the word that is actually translated here “elder,” in verse 5, is the Greek word presbúteros, which gives us our English word presbyter. And the word that is translated as “an overseer” in verse 7—the distinction is there in English between “elder” and “overseer”—that word there is actually the word epískopos, from which we get our English word episcopal. And you might add to that another noun and also a verb, which you find, for example, in 1 Peter 5,[1] which addresses the function of these elders in terms of shepherding, so that the “shepherd” is the “poimḗn,” and the responsibility of leadership is to ensure that in overseeing the congregation and in guiding the congregation, that their expressions of care are directly tied to leading the congregation by the crook of God’s Word.

Most unsolved problems in a local church can be traced to defective leadership, almost without exception.

This is absolutely, foundationally crucial: to realize that leadership in the local church is a leadership by this book. That is why a congregation should always be happy when those who are teaching the Bible say to them, “You better take your Bible and see if what’s being said is in there”; that a congregation always ought to be happy when the person teaching them says, “You’re sensible people, you can read this for yourselves, you can figure this out,” as opposed to the person in the pulpit exercising some kind of magical capacity whereby he seeks to bamboozle the minds of those who are under his tutelage, who then simply come with a spoonful and seek to get a little spoonful of something that will bless them or encourage them or enrich them and then try and get it as best they can out and into their car to go on with the week.

No, you will notice that in verse 5 the “elder” and in verse 7 the “overseer” is the one who in verse 9 is caring for the church by teaching the church. By teaching the church.

It’s a long time since I’ve said this to you, but I said it some time ago—I think probably ten years ago, maybe fifteen years ago now. I can go way back now. It’s quite staggering how far we can go back. But you remember—perhaps some of you remember—that I said, “If you want to know that I have stopped loving you or caring for you, then you will know when it becomes apparent that I have stopped studying my Bible, when I have stopped teaching you from the Bible, when I have started simply to tell you stories or tried to allure you with tales and notions and humor and so on.”

And I said that in part because I think there was some question about whether I was just as lovable as my wife knows me to be—whether the expression of care from the eldership would be directly tied to hugs in the hallway. I’m not opposed to hugs in the hallway. I’m getting better as time goes on. Eventually I’ll be so doted, it won’t matter; I won’t know who I’m hugging in any case. But the fact is, I said then, and it struck me again this week as I studied it, that the ultimate expression of care on the part of the eldership is in being apt to teach the Bible so that the people might be fed the Word of God, so that they might be growing in the Word of God, so that they might be able to stand against the attacks of the Evil One, and so that they in turn might be able to teach their children the things that they are learning as they go.

The Shepherd of the sheep, the Lord Jesus, is the one who leads his people into the pastures, into the “paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”[2] And so it is that the essential qualifications directly related to the functioning of eldership within the local church is tied expressly to their ability—not exclusively but nevertheless expressly—to their ability to teach the truth and to rebuke those who contradict the truth. End of verse 9: “so that you will be able to teach the truth,” he says, “and be able to refute those who deny the truth.”

Now, clearly this is a man-sized task, and it is not entrusted to an individual, but it is entrusted to a plurality of individuals. And when we read the New Testament, not only here but elsewhere, we discover that there is safety in numbers. Safety in numbers. And the New Testament guards against the proclivity of an individual to seek to exercise a jurisdiction which is not theirs to exercise. The person who wields the most of the Bible faces the challenge of this the greatest, as we’ll see in a moment or two. But failure to pay attention to that principle leads to all kinds of popedoms—not just the ultimate papacy in the See of Rome but all the little papacies that exist in local congregations, where individuals wrest the Scriptures to their destruction and to the destruction of their people. And God is merciful to us at the moment, I think, in Parkside, although I never want to say too much in case it all blows up in my face. But I am aware of churches in our immediate environment here that are completely bedeviled by all kinds of stuff. And ultimately, it may be traced to failure at the level of pastoral leadership.

The responsibility that is given is given in plurality. The qualifications that are called for are called for in each of the individuals, and the distinction of giftedness and the diversity of function does not negate that at all. The thing that we need to understand—and I know that we’re stopping here just on one word, “elders”—but the thing that we need to be sure of before we go to the characteristics is that there is no hierarchy imagined in the New Testament. There very quickly became a hierarchy as people began to pay less attention to the Bible and more attention to their man-made notions of how it ought to be. Nothing much has changed throughout the years, and so you can find that there are places all over the globe where they have all kinds of things that apparently have been built from secular models. So you have a large sort of population who’ve come out of a manufacturing industry, and these men have become the leaders in the church, and they kind of break the church down into manufacturing units. They have the union leaders here, they have the presidents and the vice presidents there, and everyone looks in the Bible and says, “How in the world did it get like this?”

Well, actually, it got like this because people stopped looking in the Bible. And the worst of it is when the hierarchical notion leads to somebody in a position of almost unchallengeable authority. And, of course, if a church is led by the Scriptures, then it’s almost inevitable that the individual who has most access to the Scriptures and most responsibility of teaching the Scriptures is the one who faces the greatest challenge in this regard.

And that’s true no matter where the congregation is. Because Paul makes it clear that there is a respect and there is an honor which attaches to this task: “If anyone regards the task of an overseer, they desire a noble task.”[3] But the respect and honor is directly related to the work, not to the personality of the individual. Such individuals are to be respected for their work, not obeyed because of their zealousness or because of their coercive abilities at leadership. And that’s why the plurality of leaders, that’s why the safety is found in numbers. Because zealous leadership, persuasive leadership, is nevertheless leadership which remains subject to all the other leaders.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? Because what we discover is that all of us are responsible to the leadership of Jesus. All of us are responsible to the leadership of Jesus. Brought into the family of God, we’re brothers and sisters. How do brothers and sisters teach each other? Well, they elbow one another in the ribs. They pull one another on. They cajole one another. They rebuke one another. They’re brothers and sisters. All of us are subject to the leadership of Jesus, who is the Chief Shepherd. But the New Testament also makes clear that some of us are responsible for the leadership of others.

That’s eldership in the church—in the same way that as your children grow in the nuclear family, there are changes. Your leadership as parents is not the same as it was when they were in their infancy, when parameters had to be established and so on—the transitions that develop in life, where the car keys come, where their own passport is available to them, where they’re now traveling out and beyond and so on, and where they’re now actually correcting us, where they’re calling us to account. That is all a necessary element of it, but it doesn’t alter the fact that I’m still their dad, whether I want to be or not. You’re still their mom. You’re still responsible for them—not to the degree that you once were. And when that breaks down, then the demise is significant.

All of us are responsible to the leadership of Jesus.

We don’t want to overstate that, but it’s important that we understand it. And that is why at the end of Hebrews, the writer to the Hebrews says to the people, he says, “Now, I want you to obey your leadership. Obey the leadership. They keep watch over you,” he says, “as men who must give an account.”[4] Not “give an account to you”—although, as we’ve already said, we’re accountable to one another in Christ—but as those who will give an account to God, in the same way that mums and dads will give account for the way we raise our children. “And,” says the writer to the Hebrews, “obey them as men who must give an account, so that their work”—notice—“so that their work will be a joy and not a burden, because that would be no advantage to you.” Isn’t that what mothers say all the time? “Oh, don’t make this difficult for me, please. Would you just do as I asked you? If I ask you to do something that was wrong… I’m not. Don’t let’s make this hard.”

So, it is a very happy thing when a church understands a biblical structure. But—and we’ll move on from this—it is also vitally important that we recognize that structure alone is not the issue. You can have perfect structure in a dead body. And the vital thing is that it is the Spirit of God filling out the framework that God has determined is to be the framework as he gives it to us in his Word.

The Characteristics of Elders

Well, that’s enough concerning the function itself. You can come back to that on your own. Let’s go immediately to the way in which he addresses the characteristics of these individuals. It really is a very unsettling passage of Scripture. I would rather have someone else teach it than have to teach it myself. I think I’d rather listen to it than say it. It’s tough to be your own pastor.

“If anyone is above reproach…” There you have it in verse 6, and then verse 7 again: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” “Must be above reproach.” Or, in the NIV, I think, from memory—I don’t have it in front of me—I think the NIV uses the word “blameless.” Does it? “Must be blameless.”

So, we could use the word unimpeachable, “blameless,” “above reproach,” but we dare not use the word faultless or flawless. Because if that was what it meant, then there wouldn’t be any elders at all. If the chief characteristic of the elder is that he is absolutely flawless, without fault in any shape or form, then, of course, we’re only ever going to have had one elder, and that elder would be the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

No. We have to understand what the Bible is saying and why it’s saying what it’s saying. And here is one of the places where we have to guard against a very wooden approach to the Scriptures. A wooden approach to the Scriptures. People get unsettled when I use that phrase, because—especially the wooden people, and some have got even a more metallic approach to it. What I mean by that is this: if you bury down on, for example, this notion of “the husband of one wife” and you approach that in a wooden way—you say, “It categorically means the husband of one wife”—now you have to say, “Well, no single person can ever be an elder, because he doesn’t have one wife. No man whose wife has died, leaving him a widower, and who has remarried can ever possibly be an elder in a local church, because he has more than one wife.”

And when you start down that line, you very quickly say to yourself, “I wonder if that is what Paul is on about here. Is that what he’s actually guarding against?” Is he simply addressing the issue of divorce and remarriage as being a double standard, and therefore, it is reasonable for somebody not to be put in that position? Possibly. But if you think about Crete for a moment, if you think about the contemporary world then, at the most basic level, what was he saying? “No polygamists must serve as elders in the church.” Polygamy was part and parcel of the social structure. People had one, two, and three wives. And he says, “Now, when you put your leadership together, make sure that we get this absolutely clear in our minds: the person that is serving in this way must not be guilty of that.”

So if you stand far enough back from it, you say, “Well, what’s he actually saying needs to be true of leadership in the church?” In terms of marriage, he’s to be a one-woman man. He’s a one-woman man. He’s to be a man who in the area of marriage and in sexuality is unimpeachable. And to violate that obvious application brings with it all kinds of ramifications. And I don’t think we ought to stand back from it one iota. It’s very challenging. It’s supposed to be!

And when you stand back from it, in relationship to parental jurisdiction, what is he saying? Is he saying that anyone that serves as an elder can’t have naughty kids? Is he saying that anyone who serves as an elder must never have children who go through a rebellious phase? Now, someone may say that’s exactly what he’s saying.

When I think about… My father would have been excluded from eldership through the majority of his life, dealing with me. And he was effective in leadership throughout all of my life. But I was routinely thrown out of things—Bible classes and all manner of things. And it would reflect dreadfully on him, I’m sure. He’d have to come and pick me up. “Did you get sent out again?” “Yes, I did.” “You are such a pain in the neck.” “I know that, Dad. I’m sorry. I won’t get sent out next week.” And I didn’t, but sometimes, the week after that, I got sent out again.

No, again, if you stand far enough back from it, what’s he saying? He says that the people who are in leadership, if they’re going to lead the family of God, their families need to be under some kind of control. They’re not debauchery filled. They’re not full of insubordinate nonsense. They’re not people who are rebellious and cantankerous and tearing the place apart.

Now, the degree to which we want to micromanage that varies. And the extent of the time frame that extends to that also varies in people’s minds. So, is there a difference between parents who have raised their children, nurtured them in the faith, and whose child now has turned their back on what perhaps they once professed and no longer believes? They might be twenty-two; they might be twenty-four; they might be thirty-five. Is what Paul is saying here, “This individual now is absolutely disqualified from eldership in the church”? Well, we must work these things out. We have to figure them out. We’ve got to apply them. We’ve gotta understand them.

I was speaking with a man yesterday. He’s in his nineties. We were talking about the fact that one of his children, his oldest, will turn sixty tomorrow. And the great sadness of his life is that this one boy, unlike the rest of his children, professes no faith in the Lord Jesus. Raised in the same home, read to from the same Bible, the recipient of the same prayers; a kind man, a clever man, but not a believing man.

Now, you have to say to yourself, “Is that what Paul is actually saying here? That Mr. X may exercise no leadership in the local church because that one boy is there?” I don’t believe so. You’re sensible people. You have to figure it out.

Now, why is it so important? Why is it so important? Well, because of what he says at the beginning of verse 7: “For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” This is not some kind of arbitrary standard that is just invented by Paul. Paul is saying that if leadership in the local church is going to be effective, we have a right to believe that if someone doesn’t know how to manage their own household, how are they then going to become a steward of God’s house? That’s the terminology there, “as God’s steward.” He’s the household manager. It’s Downton Abbey again, it’s the big old guy. He’s the manager of the household. How are you going to make him the manager of the household?

It doesn’t mean that he moved from perfection in one realm to the perfection in the other realm, but it does mean that when people look at it, they say, “Well, there’s a justifiable correlation here—that Mr. X might be able to fulfill this role.” Because surely marriage and family life—marriage and family life—provide the most probing analysis of a man’s character. You say, “Well, there may be other areas.” I’m sure there are other areas, but what I am in my house, what I am with my children, irrespective of whatever the public persona is, in the privacy of my bedroom, in the security of my family—that realm is the foundation for this realm. And clearly, neither I nor any of my colleagues is working from the position of perfection, of flawlessness. But you don’t need me to tell you that.

This is a joke in our family now, but it’s actually not a joke. The reason it’s funny is because it stings so much. When our children were all together riding along in the back of the car and volunteering bits and pieces of information along the way, every so often I would go off on one of my verbal voyages. And when I had finished my little diatribe, in the silence that would follow, then my son’s voice would be heard in the back seat. And he just always used to say the same thing: “And that’s another kind word from your pastor.” And it absolutely flayed me every time. He was absolutely right. That’s it. That was completely out of line. Completely out of line. But that’s the accountability concerning which we’re talking. Why would somebody be trusted with the task of managing the church if they’re glaringly unsuccessful in managing their own home?

You see what I mean about standing far enough back from it? The danger, you see, in these lists—and I’ve got all the lists, and everybody’s lists on the lists, and the sublists of the lists, and everything else, about how someone who’s been divorced, you know, eighty-five years ago can still never be a leader in the church, and I have all that stuff, and I’m prepared to interact with it all. But if you stand far enough back from it, what is he saying? He’s saying something really simple: marriage and parenting is the testing ground for real leadership. It probes your character, and if you’re messed up there, just don’t take it on in the church. ’Cause you’ll be even more vulnerable in the church than you are in the privacy of your own home.

Now, what then follows are characteristics: five must-nots and six musts. We never got beyond the first must-not in the first service, and we won’t go any further now in the second. I didn’t plan it that way, but it just so happens. And when you look at this list—“For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.” Here comes the first not, the must-not: “He must not be arrogant.” So, first of all, very first one, Paul takes a small revolver out, and he points it right between the eyes of the potential leader in the church or the acting leader in the church.

The characteristics as a whole—and we’ll come back to them this evening—make it perfectly clear that the real need on the part of a congregation is not the giftedness of those who serve in leadership but is the godliness of those who serve in leadership; that the real essential requirement is not the requirement that is often the case in terms of a person’s giftedness, in terms of a person’s status in society, in terms of a person’s education, so we look for Mr. Gifted, Mr. Educated, Mr. Money, and on the basis of that, since he was doing it out here, he’s probably going to be able to do it in here. “No,” says Paul, “don’t do that.” What you need to look for is where he is, probing into the deep recesses of marriage and family life, and then here are the characteristics: arrogance.

Now, what a challenge is that? Especially two millennia later, we find ourselves the generation of “I did it my way”:

To think I did all that,
And may I say, not in a shy way;
Oh no, oh no, not me.[5]

No. Do you know that that is in the top three songs played at non-Christian funerals in twenty-first-century America? It’s in the top three! So the people all sit there and say, “Oh, how wonderful is that?” They’re following on from the arrogance of Nebuchadnezzar: “Is [this not] the great Babylon [that] I have built?”[6] Arrogance, pride.

Samuel Rutherford, who was very effective in his day, intelligent, useful, realized he had to take himself in hand with this stuff. And he wrote in his journal, “Be humbled, walk softly; down … with your top sail; … it is a low entry to go in at heaven’s [gate].”[7]

A position of leadership gives you prominence. It gives you notions of significance. And the more that is the case, the harder it is to deal with it.

Every day, in a thousand ways, we’re tempted to make ourselves the center of the universe. That’s why we’re such a pain in the neck around the family table. That’s why the people can’t tell us stories or volunteer information when we’re having a sandwich break after we’ve been cutting down trees in the Metropark. Soon as somebody says, “I was going over there the other day,” the person says, “Oh yes, I was over there the other day, and what I did when I was over there, I found this, and I found that, and I found the next thing.” And so there’s just a pause; he pauses for breath. Somebody else says, “Well, yes, as I was saying,” and then, once he’s got his breath, he says, “Yes, as I was saying about… I said, and I…”

And if you’re a talker—and I’ve been known to talk—you realize your topsail is up. It’s up! Luther says the trouble with us is we’re curved in upon ourselves, tempted to believe that what we have to share, the information that we possess, is really the most significant thing in this three-hour car drive to Detroit—that everybody’s just decided to come with me in the car so that they might hear everything about me. That’s why, you know, T. S. Mooney said every pastor needs a wife, if for no other reason than to keep him humble. That’s why you need children that are not in awe of you. They respect you, but they know you have warts and flaws, and they know that you daily have to repent of your sins.

It’s not easy, is it? Because a position of leadership gives you prominence. It gives you notions of significance. And the more that is the case, the harder it is to deal with it.

Charles Simeon, who exercised a phenomenally effective ministry for, what, some fifty-four years in Cambridge—a graduate of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, highly influential, wonderfully effective, students hanging on his every word, and so on—he received a letter from his good friend John Thornton, which reads in part as follows (and I’ll wrap it up with this): “[Charles,] watch continually over your own spirit, and do all in love; we must grow [downward] in humility to soar heavenward. I … recommend [you] having a watchful eye over yourself, for, generally speaking, as is the minister, so are the people.”[8]

You got an arrogant dad, you get arrogant kids, by and large. You got a family that sits around and extols its significance, you will find when those children go out into the community, they simply represent. That’s why, loved ones, grace is so important. “He makes the sinner sad.”[9] I’m a sinner, saddened by how easy I can take notions of significance to myself. And that, you see, is why if eldership is ever going to work, it has to work. In other words, in the same way that the wife says to her husband, “Hey, wait a minute,” it’s the same way that the leadership has to say to one another, “Hey, that’s out of line.” And it’s not hierarchical. It’s like this.

I said I wouldn’t tell this story in the second service, but I’ll tell it now in any case, because I think it makes the point as strongly as anything I can give you. And incidentally, if you think arrogance, the first must-not, is hard, you can just let your eye run down to temper, which is coming next. I don’t want anybody getting angry about that, but it is next on the list.

But we can go back, now, fifteen years or seventeen years. We’re in an elders’ meeting. It must be within the time frame—so, post-1993—since we came in here, was it? And in the course of the elders’ meeting, I had occasion to point out to one of the elders where I thought he was largely out of line, and I did so with a measure of effectiveness, I thought. It wasn’t well received either by him or by anybody else, but I hadn’t really regretted it.

The next morning, I got a telephone call from one of my fellow elders. I won’t tell you who it is. You’ll all be… We could have a sweepstake on it, but that wouldn’t be good. “What? I can’t believe you just said that,” they said. The elder said, “You know, what you did, what you said last night was actually true, but the way you said it was wrong. The context in which you did it was wrong. You should have said that one-on-one to that guy. You shouldn’t have done it in front of everybody else. You humiliated him in front of everybody else.” And then he said, “I want you to phone him up and apologize.” And then he said, “And once you’ve done that, I want you to phone me back and tell me that you’ve done it.”

And I told him, “Blow it out your ear!” No, I didn’t. But the reason I could say that I did is because that was my first, that was my knee-jerk reaction to it while I held the phone out here. “You think I’ve done—I’m this, I’m that, and you’re going to phone me up?” And then I realized, “This is a pivotal moment in your life. This is God’s way of teaching you how this thing works. It’s a lesson you’re gonna have to learn and learn and relearn.” And in the goodness of God, these are the men who are my fellow elders in this place. And just in case you ever wonder if I have a free pass amongst these guys, the answer is no. I love them. They love me. We are accountable under God to his Word and to one another. And you should be glad of that, because ultimately, every problem in the local church may be traced to defective leadership. May God help us.

Let us pause in a moment of silence.

It would be wrong for us to think that just getting the structure right is the answer, because it isn’t. You could have a bad structure with Spirit-filled people, and it would be better than a good structure with people who were not living in obedience to God’s Word and filled with the Holy Spirit. And so we bring ourselves back to the prayer of our hearts that the Spirit of God would fall upon us in leadership and as a church.

And so may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with us as we seek to follow Christ, obey his Word, live attractive lives before “a crooked and [perverse] generation.”[10] And may grace, mercy, and peace be our portion, today and forevermore. Amen.


[1] See 1 Peter 5:2.

[2] Psalm 23:3 (ESV).

[3] 1 Timothy 3:1 (paraphrased).

[4] Hebrews 13:17 (paraphrased).

[5] Paul Anka, “My Way” (1969).

[6] Daniel 4:30 (NIV 1984).

[7] Samuel Rutherford to Cardoness, Aberdeen, 1637, in Joshua Redivivus; or, Three Hundred and Fifty Two Religious Letters […] (Glasgow, 1818), 177.

[8] John Thornton to Charles Simeon, Clapham, November 13, 1782, in “Simeon, Thornton, and Newton,” The Churchman (February 1880): 372.

[9] Isaac Watts, “Going to Church” (1719).

[10] Philippians 2:15 (ESV).

Copyright © 2022, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.