“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.”
Elders are not to be short-tempered…or, some will translate this as “quick-tempered.” Okay, do we really need to explore this one, Pastor Win? Yep, we do. Why? We need to explore this idea because the church often does not take this qualification seriously.
To begin with, let us put to the side the notion of Elders abusing their authority…we have covered that notion already. And let us simply raise the question of patience. The amount of patience and forbearance that we find God giving to his people is overwhelming in the very least. Yes, God is firm in his justice, but more often than not, in the scriptures and in history, we find God giving opportunity after opportunity to his people to repent. For example, it is true that God brought the Babylonians in and destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple in 586 B.C. Yet, for more than 200 years God had been sending prophets like Isaiah to warn the people of the consequences of their sin…sin that has its roots in Solomon and his son.
How many years did God put up with places like Sodom, Nineveh, or Tyre before he brought about their downfall? How many years will God put up with America before He brings about our nation’s downfall? Moses spent 40 years pastoring a people in the wilderness that were stubborn, grouchy, and complained all of the time…spend some time in the book of Numbers to see the mess that he faced during that period. Think of the unbelief and ignorance of the Apostles while they walked with Jesus. Need I go on?
My philosophy as a pastor is that if I can be a tenth as patient with my congregation as God has been with me, then I am doing well. Yes, that means that change and reform sometimes takes a lot more time than we might hope; it means that spiritual growth (just like natural growth) takes time. Such is the way of the Christian life and the Christian church, and if an Elder is not patient, he will never see the completion of the work that God has given to him — he will get frustrated and walk away. But that is not the calling of an Elder…Elders must be patient and nurture growth in the life of the church.
We are not going to get it right all of the time…but we will never see the fruit of those times the Holy Spirit works in or through us if we do not patiently labor in the faithful reliance that the Spirit will move and work and mature God’s people in God’s timing.