1Ti 3:2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach
Continuing to look at the character qualifications related to an Administrator the next phrase in this verse is:
‘.. the husband of one wife..’
Although this should need little exposition in the context of the western world it does become a real issue in some nations where polygamy is practised. What is permissible for a man who has many wives once he is converted? Can he become an overseer? A friend of mine, John Kpikpi, who leads the Newfrontiers church in Ghana and is planting churches in 7 West African nations, has written particularly helpfully on the subject of marriage in an African context in his excellent book God’s New Tribe (click here to order).
I wrote to John about this particular verse asking if a man who has been polygamous before he was saved was eligible to become a leader despite, out of compassion and mercy, still caring for more than one wife. His response was ‘I do not think he should become a leader, particularly because leaders are visible models for the flock of God. He is accepted as part of the body but making him a leader will send all the wrong signals about what the right shape and standards of marriage ought to be’.
‘.. sober-minded ..’
Translated ‘temperate’ in other translations Paul is clearly using the matter of drinking alcohol as the illustration (c.f. 1 Tim 3:8). It is essential that anyone in a position of influence and providing a model for godly living should not be weak in the area of drunkenness. Although the scripture does not forbid the taking of alcoholic drinks drunkenness is forbidden, being an example of a lack of self-discipline or self-control, the latter being the next quality we shall consider. However, there are cultures where taking a drink becomes a stumbling block for the weaker conscience and, in that context, is probably best avoided.
‘.. self controlled ..’
As well as having an application in the context of drunkenness, as just discussed, ‘self control’ has a wider application, particularly referring to any fleshly temptations such as gluttony, lust and so on. We know that temptation comes from the world, the flesh and the devil. The lack of self control leads to excess or misuse of what is a God-given and healthy desire (e.g. food, sexual intercourse) resulting in possible shipwreck of a leader’s reputation.
How sad it is when leaders fall in this way. Although we need one another’s help in resisting temptation, the bottom line is the importance of self-control and attention to the whispered warning of the Spirit. What comfort there is in 1 Corinthians 10:13; ‘No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.’ So we never face anything that is irresistible!
Why do the scriptures emphasise these particular characteristics of self discipline? There are two reasons. First, if leaders are to pastor the people of God they must come from a place of integrity as they teach people to live godly lives and lead lives that are exemplary.
Second, there should be a strong contrast to the world’s standards. It always saddens me to hear of political leaders who have, for instance, broken covenant with their wives and had an affair with another woman. The world will say that ‘their personal lives are none of my business’. Rubbish! If they do not have the discipline and integrity to handle so intimate a situation with self discipline why should they expect us to respect them in matters of national consequence? Admittedly, there are well-known political leaders who have failed in this way and yet have clearly had great leadership skills and have influenced the world in a positive way. But this is despite having a serious character flaw rather than providing an excuse for immoral behaviour.
Let Christian leadership be a shining example of a higher standard!