by Brett Hogland
God Almighty, in His infinite wisdom, "gave some to be...pastors...for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-12). Thus the Holy Spirit, in His revelation of the mind or will of God through the apostles (I Corinthians 2:10-13; John 16:13-15), sets forth certain requirements or qualifications for elders (I Timothy 3:1-7,11; Titus 1:5-9). The qualifications, revealed by the Holy Spirit, set forth a "realm". A man who is in this "realm" is acceptable to God as an overseer. Likewise, out of this "realm" men are unacceptable to God as overseers. Therefore, the Holy Spirit makes men overseers (Acts 20:28) in that He selects men that are in a certain "realm", much like the way that God "chose us in Him (Christ) before the foundation of the world" (Ephesians 1:4). The men who are in this realm have prepared themselves (II Timothy 2:21) and are fitted for the special work of humble service in leadership, protection, nurturing, and oversight.
Each qualification has a specific purpose with the overall and ultimate goal in mind of shepherding and overseeing the flock of God locally (I Peter 5:2). For instance, the requirement that an elder be "able to teach" (I Timothy 3:2) has the specific purpose "that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict" (Titus 1:9). This specific purpose fits into the overall goal of shepherding and protection of the flock. Likewise, the requirements concerning an elder’s children have a specific purpose with the overall goal in mind. The requirements follow as given by the Holy Spirit: "A bishop then must be...one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence..." (I Timothy 3:2-4); "...a man…having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination" (Titus 1:6). What, then, is the specific purpose of this requirement? What are the limitations of this requirement? Specifically, does this requirement apply to an elder’s children who have left his home? This is the main query that we seek to answer in this study.
The specific purpose of this requirement is stated in I Timothy 3:5 where the Holy Spirit reasons parenthetically "for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" The purpose of the "children qualifications" concerns a man’s ability to "rule" and "care for" that which is under his oversight and authority. The reasoning of I Timothy 3:5 makes clear that God views the household as the proving ground of a man’s "ruling care" or "care in ruling". There is no doubt that a man’s family will mirror his own character. We have all seen (or had) children who say things in public that reveal the true mind of their parents. Children bear our "seal" to a greater degree, sometimes, more than we would desire. Children not only say things that reveal their parents, but also, through their behavior, reveal a father's sacrifice or selfishness, holiness or worldliness, tireless effort or laziness, love, or lack of concern, discipline, or neglect. But does the behavior of children outside the home (i.e. the realm of his "rule") reflect the father’s ability to rule and care? Yes...sometimes. Children who have had a father who does not rule his house well will usually bear those marks in their life to follow. But we cannot take the quantum leap from that conclusion to say that whenever an adult rebels against God it is because their father did not rule his house well. This is like noting that when a person lives in rebellion to God their life is often hard and fraught with trouble (Proverbs 13:15) and then concluding that when a person suffers hardship it is because they sinned. The book of Job shows that good people sometimes suffer. Likewise, good fathers sometimes have children that depart from God after they are out from under the rule and oversight of their father. This reasoning would be like a doctor who notes that a poor diet and lack of exercise often result in high cholesterol, then concluding that every case of high cholesterol is a result of poor diet and lack of exercise. There are other factors that can cause high cholesterol. There are also other factors, besides a poor father, which can lead to an adult that rebels against God.
We cannot know how a father "rules" or "cares for" his family by those adults who have left the family. We might have indicators but we cannot know. The only way to know if a man has high cholesterol because of a poor diet is to examine what he eats. The only way to know if a man rules his own house well is to examine that house. You might ask, "why, then, did God tell us to examine his children to see if they are faithful?" Because we can know how a man rules his house by examining the children who are in that house and still under his rule and care. Are those who are under his rule and care "faithful", "reverent" and "submissive"? Children who are still under the rule and care of the father will make mistakes, but they will not persist and continue in rebellion if he is ruling his house well - this I can know (Proverbs 22:15; 23:13-14). I believe that the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32) gives us a picture of God’s attitude toward his own children when they depart from him and then return. This man’s son left his rule and departed from God (Luke 15:12-13,18). There is no indication that the father would have allowed this rebellion in his house. The son had to depart from the father’s household to live his prodigal life. The father of this child showed no toleration of rebellion at home, had no fellowship with the son’s wicked life, and sought his return. I find no fault with the father as I find no fault in God when we depart from Him. This child was no reflection of a father who did not rule his own house well, but rather a rebel in spite of his good father.
No man is held accountable for that over which he has no control (Matthew 25:14-30). Therefore a man is not held accountable for the whole nation, state, or city in which he lives. Nor is any man held accountable for the behavior of children who are not in "his own house". But rather he is held accountable and judged by that which was entrusted to his responsibility. Elders are not held accountable for the behavior of members who leave their oversight and go elsewhere. God tells us to count or esteem "elders who rule well" to be worthy of double honor. How do we know if they "rule well"? Do we know by the members who move elsewhere from that local church? While those who move away may be indicators, we cannot hold the elders responsible for every rogue, rebel or outlaw that leaves their presence. When elders do not "rule well" (I Timothy 5:17) in the church, there are often members who leave their oversight and cause problems elsewhere. But this does not mean that whenever a new member causes trouble it is the result of poor elders in the previous church.
I will freely admit that when considering the qualifications of an elder, the requirements that concern his children are the most difficult for me to discern. But I believe that one of the keys to discerning them is found in the words "rule" and "care". The children in the context are those who are under his rule and care, and a child who leaves that realm of rule and rebels against God does not necessarily disqualify their father from being an elder. A child who becomes an apostate adult may cause a conscientious elder to re-examine himself (II Corinthians 13:5) and it may be an indicator of an unseen problem. But it does not necessarily disqualify a previously qualified elder (that is, one who had that same child in submission and faithful reverence while at home). Many times an elder will further reveal his sterling qualifications by the way that he admonishes (II Thessalonians 3:15) and aggressively seeks to restore (Galatians 6:1) an apostate adult child.
Let us never lay aside the importance of meeting this qualification. This requirement is filled with God’s wisdom, love, and care for the church. If we will seek to understand it and implement it, we will have good shepherds. Let us seek out men like Abraham, of whom God said "I have known him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him, that they keep the way of the Lord, to do righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19). Abraham’s oversight of his house revealed a faithfulness to God in that which was entrusted to him. Let us never make the qualifications of an elder more or less difficult than God intended.