By Peeter Lukas
1 Timothy 3:1 reads, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer he desires a noble task.” And most Christians are familiar with the passages 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-16, both of which describe the qualifications of an elder.
Calvin observes that “those things which are excellent (noble), are also arduous and difficult.” And consider Saint Peter’s Principle (the title of a recently published book by Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Seminary). According to this principle, we “never outgrow our inherent inadequacy for the duties that are incumbent upon us as we lead others in the ever changing challenges of leadership”. And it asks, “…have we authentically seen our flaws, our failures, and our weaknesses that interpenetrate even our greatest strengths and our most notable successes?”
Note the tension implied in these things: a man is chosen because of actual, recognizable godliness, but those strengths will eventually not be what carries the day. Why not?
Those of us who have sat around the Session’s conference table have been in the company of a “merry band of brothers.” And then the exposure, inadequacy, flaws, and weaknesses begin to surface — along with the wisdom, fortitude, and gospel love. Dearly held thoughts are graciously disagreed with, sometimes very swiftly. There are no “free passes” on URC’s Session. It’s “us”, the URC body, not “me” and my opinion. You leave meetings feeling impoverished by your own lack of thought, but with a bag of newfound gold nuggets of wisdom. Are you a people pleaser? Or a Law thumper? Have you become “too smart too quickly”? You’re shamed at the awareness that these wise and discerning men – those whom you most respect – now know who you really are, but grateful that they can pray intelligently for your sins and flaws. You come to an end of yourself when you sit on a good Session like ours.
A man can, at times, feel exposed, ashamed, undone as an elder. What’s the remedy? One definition of the word ashamed is to be “reluctant to do something through fear of embarrassment or humiliation.” Honest elders see the “nobility” of their task and wonder how “noble” they really are, naked for all to see. They can become reluctant to “just do something.”
How does Paul solve this problem? He speaks plainly, but paradoxically: That’s right, you have spent yourself to the last penny, so that you’ll now drink richly of Christ and the Gospel…
2 Cor. 3:5 – “Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God…”
2 Cor. 12:9 – “…My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”
2 Cor. 4:7 – “But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us.”
Power in weakness — it’s not merely a belief in Christ and the gospel. Paul is convinced of its reality for himself and others and has thrown himself entirely into God’s care, and therefore, the care of others.
Dear brethren of URC, pray for our younger elder nominees: Zane Meibeyer, Josh Puuri, Nick Setterington, and Chris Spencer. Paul wrote, in Galatians 4:19, “…my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you!” Curious words for a life-long bachelor. Paul knew no better words to illustrate the “noble task” that he had undertaken.
It isn’t arrogance to want to be an elder. There’s no grander task. Pray that these men would continue to be good Gospel men, who aren’t “reluctant” to entrust themselves, both body and soul, to Christ. Pray that, like Timothy, they would “follow the pattern of the sound words…” and “guard the good deposit entrusted” to them (2 Timothy 1:13,14).