Elders And Their Character

by David Padfield

In previous articles we have examined the elder and his family. His wife is to be reverent, temperate and faithful. He is to rule his own house well and have faithful children who treat their father with reverence, "for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?" (1 Tim. 3:5). As people of the world look at an elder they are to see one who is blameless, "not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome" (1 Tim. 3:3). Such a man will "have a good testimony among those who are outside" (1 Tim. 3:7).

In this article we will look at the inward qualities of an elder. Many of these qualities are developed early in life. We are not looking at his reputation (what the world says about him), but at his character (what his wife knows he really is).

Internal Qualities

An elder is to be "temperate" (1 Tim. 3:2). The King James Version translates this world as "vigilant." Kittel says the word has reference "to the clarity and self-control necessary for sacred ministry in God's work" (Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, 4:941). Marvin Vincent says this verb means "to be calm, dispassionate, and circumspect" (Word Studies In The New Testament, Vol. IV, p. 229). An elder is one who can control his language, his temper and recreation. The apostle Peter reminds us how Jesus was the perfect example of a temperate individual, "For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: Who committed no sin, nor was guile found in His mouth; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously" (1 Pet. 2:21-23).

Paul also tells us elders are to be "of good behavior" (1 Tim. 3:2). The New International Version translates this word as "respectable." The Greek word is kosmios, which means "orderly, modest" (W. E. Vine). It is the same word used in 1 Timothy 2:9, where women are told to "adorn themselves in modest apparel." You will not find an elder at the public swimming pool (nor should you find any Christian there). His clothing, language and general demeanor are to be "respectable."

The KJV gives us the word "sober" as another qualification for office (1 Tim. 3:2). The New King James Version translates this as "sober-minded" while the NIV renders it as "self-controlled." "Basically it means 'of sound mind, sane, in one's senses,' and then 'curbing one's desires and impulses, self-controlled, temperate" (Ralph Earle, Word Meanings In The New Testament, p. 390). Elders who are "sober-minded" make it much easier for Christians to "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account" (Heb. 13:17).

An elder is also to be "gentle" (1 Tim. 3:3). The KJV translates this word as "patient." "It expresses that considerateness that looks humanely and reasonably at the facts of a case; it is rendered 'gentle' in 1 Tim. 3:3 RV" (Vine).

Shepherds of the flock are to be "just" men (Titus 1:8). The NIV translates this word as "upright." Vine says the word "was first used of persons observant of dike, 'custom, rule, right,' especially in the fulfillment of duties towards gods and men, and of things that were in accordance with right. The Eng. word 'righteous' was formerly spelt 'rightwise,' i.e. (in a) straight way. In the NT it denotes 'righteous,' a state of being right, or right conduct, judged whether by the divine standard, or according to human standards, of what is right." Paul command us to do "nothing with partiality" (1 Tim. 5:21).

The word "holy" (Titus 1:8) signifies that which is "'religiously right, holy,' as opposed to what is unrighteous or polluted. It is commonly associated with righteousness" (Vine). All Christians are to be holy people. "Therefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and rest your hope fully upon the grace that is to be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not conforming yourselves to the former lusts, as in your ignorance; but as He who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, because it is written, 'Be holy, for I am holy.'" (1 Pet. 1:13-16).

The KJV uses the word "temperate" in Titus 1:8, while the NKJV translates this as "self-controlled." An elder is to have control over his words, actions and thoughts. We all understand that this would exclude men who use foul language or are abusive to others. But this would also include one who was overweight due to gluttony, a gambler, or a compulsive TV viewer!

An elder can not be "self willed" (Titus 1:7) Such a man is one who, "dominated by self-interest, and inconsiderate of others, arrogantly asserts his own will" (Vine). R. C. Trench says such a man, "obstinately maintains his own opinion, or asserts his own rights, while he is reckless of the rights, opinions and interests of others." No one admires a self-willed individual-such men are the source of discord and wars. Elders are to look out for the entire congregation, and not try to be "lords over those entrusted" to them (1 Pet. 5:3). The eldership is a joint office held with other men, a self-willed elder can destroy an entire congregation.

Treatment Of Others

Godly people seek to associate with those "of like precious faith." An elder is to be a "lover of good men" (Titus 1:8, KJV). Those who love goodness will encourage it in others. Goodness will be found in his life and he will manifest it in his treatment of others.

An elder is also to be "a lover of hospitality" (Titus 1:8). Vine simply defines this word as "loving strangers." Contrary to the opinions of some brethren, elders are not to be the social directors for a congregation. Secular entertainment is a function of the home, not the church. All of us are to "be hospitable to one another without grumbling" (1 Pet. 4:9).


The qualities we have looked at are to be found in every Christian. "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, you will be neither barren nor unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Pet. 1:5-8). Elders must have these qualities and are to exemplify them by "being examples to the flock" ( 1 Pet. 5:3).

For further study