Tractable or Intractable?

“If there is one who is irreproachable, a husband of one wife, whose children have faith, not open to the accusation of reckless living or undisciplined behavior, for it is required that the overseer is irreproachable as God’s steward, not intractable, not short-tempered, not violent, not greedy, but hospitable, a lover of good, prudent, upright, pious, disciplined, being devoted to the faithful Word as taught, that he might be able to exhort people in doctrine that is sound and reprove those who deny it.”

(Titus 1:6-9)

Elders are not to be intractable. Now, there’s a word that you don’t often see anymore. In English, “intractable” refers to someone with whom it is difficult to get along. The Greek word behind this term is αυθάδης (authades). It refers to someone who is headstrong, arrogant, and stubborn — someone who is intractable. In other words, someone who is a donkey of a man (at least in personality) is not qualified to serve as an Elder.

We all know people of whom this language speaks and we probably know of some who are part of church leadership and who domineer over those in their charge (see Peter’s language on this notion — 1 Peter 5:3). The bottom line is that if you are going to serve faithfully over God’s flock, one must be able to work with all sorts of folks, pointing them to Christ and modeling Christ to them.

This does not mean that the Elder is always to be “tractable.” Indeed, the Scriptures call all Christians to be intractable toward sin, toward false teachings, and toward those who would raise up ideas that go against the knowledge of God. And, not only are leaders in the church no exception to this rule, they are especially called upon to stubbornly and boldly defend the truth.

The sad thing is that the church and its leaders often gets this backwards. We find Christians being intractable toward one another and being tractable toward the sinful world around us. Yet, does not James remind us that friendship with the world is enmity with God (James 4:4)? Should we not be under the persecution of the world (John 15:18-21)? Are we not counted as blessed when the world hates and reviles us for the name of Jesus (Matthew 5:10-12)? So, why is it that so many church leaders in America have become tractable to the sinful agendas of the culture? And why is it that so many church leaders have become intractable toward those they are called to serve? The solution? Repentance.

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6 Comments

  1. Tim King

    I really enjoyed reading this article. The word intractable has been running through my mind lately and it was great to come across an article that related the term back to the passage in Titus 1. I would appreciate hearing your thoughts about this subject, taking it a bit further.
    Since being intractable with regards to sin, false teaching, etc. is a good thing and not sinful, would you consider being an intractable as a leader to be a sin or do you believe it is just a failure and disqualifying trait for an elder?
    thank you in advance for your thoughts.
    Tim

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    1. preacherwin

      Tim, thanks for the kind words, I took a peek at a few of your reflections as well and I appreciated some of your illustrations. Thanks for following.

      As to Elders being intractable. I think that if we narrowly define intractable as being bullhead-ish, stubborn, and even arrogant, we would be advised to disqualify such men from positions of leadership in the church. I have seen Christians and whole congregations torn asunder as a result of headstrong leaders or pastors. The nice thing about such character traits like this one is that our “intractability” can be repented of and then no longer becomes a barrier. The reality is that none of us ever will live up to these character traits, but the real question is whether or not we are trying.

      As to being being uncompromising with respect to sin and stubbornly standing on the word of God, yes, that is indeed a good thing. But I am not sure that “intractable” would be the first word that I would use there. In English, intractable carries with it connotations of being hard to deal with — the kind of person, perhaps, to whom a person just cannot talk. In Greek, αυθάδης implies someone who we would call arrogant in their stubbornness even. Such an attitude suggests that the intractable person has no genuine love for people. In a context like that, I am reminded of Jude’s evangelistic commission to us: have mercy on those who doubt, snatch others from the fire, and show mercy (to the person) while even hating the garment (implies our works or actions) stained by the flesh (sin) — (v. 22-23).

      So, when it comes to boldly saying this or that is sin of which we should repent or saying, I will not compromise the word of God, I would suggest perhaps using the term “uncompromising” would be a better choice of words. Or perhaps, we ought to use more Biblical language and speak of being “zealous for good works” or “zeal for God’s word.”

      As a pastor I have had conversations with folks over the years about sin and I must confess that there is a very human side of me that says, boy it would be nice to just let people do whatever they want and “live and let live.” Yet, I can’t do that because God’s Word is my authority and Christ is my King and Lord as well as my Savior. So, if I love Him, I must seek to obey him. And that applies to all of us, regardless of one’s proclivity toward sin. While I think that most people would describe me as being uncompromising on matters of sin, I am not sure that most people who know me well would call me “intractable” on those matters given the negative connotations. Hopefully that makes sense. It seems hard to reconcile “intractable” and “loving” when it comes to speaking of someone’s character, while I see it as entirely consistent to be “loving” and “uncompromising toward sin and false-teaching” when it comes to character.

      The challenge, perhaps, is that language is dynamic and words sometimes take on new meanings and drop one set of connotations. If, we narrowly end up using “intractable” as a reference to one who stubbornly holds to a position, then yes, we could perceivably use intractable in a good way when it comes to church leadership, but I am not sure that we have come to such a point in the development of the English language where that can be said. That’s my take at least.

      Is this helpful as you flesh out your thoughts?

      Blessings in Christ,

      Win

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  2. Tim King

    Thanks Win. You response and thoughts are very helpful. Thank you for the checking out some of my posts and your kind words.
    I am looking forward to reading some of your other leadership posts.

    God bless
    Tim

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  3. Tim King

    Win,
    One other quick question I have for you is to ask what the version of Scripture that you used in your reference above. I have tried to find one that used that word specifically but I cannot seem to locate it. thanks again. Tim

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    1. preacherwin

      It is the “Win Groseclose Translation.” 😉 I work from the Greek and Hebrew texts as I write these reflections, so the translation is my own. Thanks for asking!

      w

      Liked by 1 person

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