An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer is entrusted with God’s work, he must be blameless – not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it. (verses 6-9)
Having served as an elder and pastor in several churches over many years, I am always set back on my heels by reading one word in this list that is repeated twice over. “Blameless.” That’s the qualification. “An elder must be blameless … he must be blameless.”
How is that even possible? Who could ever dare serve?
Before we come to what Paul specifically commands in this instance, it’s helpful to see how he uses this word elsewhere. Twice he uses it to describe the reality of who we are in Christ Jesus. Listen: “He will also keep you firm to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 1:8). Further: “But now he has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation …” (same Greek word, Colossians 1:22).
It's only in Christ that we have any hope of being “blameless.” We can’t possibly manage it otherwise. But, on the other hand, since we truly are “in Christ,” then we truly are “blameless.” It’s a stunning reality! It hasn’t happened by our own doing – no, not at all. It’s all his doing. The Great Exchange has been worked in our lives: he took our sin upon himself so that “in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21) – in other words, we have been made “blameless” in Jesus.
That’s the spiritual reality. That’s how the Father sees us in Christ. What an incredible relief and joy. He smiles upon us.
But the practical reality is an ongoing process. Being transformed into the likeness of Christ – from one degree of glory to another – takes time. It’s a journey. We are not yet perfect, feet on the ground. There is more work yet to be done in us. And each of us is at a different point in the process.
So, when Paul uses this same word here – twice over – for church leaders, he’s thinking very practically. He means that enough of that ongoing work needs to have been done in the life of elders and overseers so that they are not open to accusation from those looking on. They must be “above reproach” in the eyes of the world.
Paul has some very specific things in mind. Faithfulness in marriage, for one. Wise, spiritual leadership in the home, for another. If the husband-wife relationship is fractured or if the family is in turmoil, it’s not yet time to engage in church leadership. Similarly, enough grace needs to have been worked into a person’s life so that they are not over-bearing, quick-tempered, drunken, violent, or dishonestly greedy. You can imagine how any of these would poison interaction within a church leadership team and how they could damage the church’s witness to the outside world – indeed, you’ve likely seen real-life examples. Paul then goes on to give positive aspects of being “blameless” – hospitality, self-control, holiness, among others. Choose leaders like this, Paul says.
All of us who are in Christ have been declared “blameless” in God’s sight. How good. In the meantime, we grow step by step into the reality. It’s a process. The Lord is at work. In leaders’ lives, too. But for them, enough transformation needs to have been accomplished already so that rough edges don’t hamper their role. To the glory of God.
(Note: Paul writes to Titus in a church setting where elders were assumed to be men. The issue of women in leadership is simply not addressed here but is positively portrayed elsewhere in Scripture.)
Lord, thank you that you have saved me, washed me clean, and made me blameless in Christ. Continue your work in me, changing my character and attitude and behaviours, step by step, to be more and more like Jesus.
And I pray for those in leadership in local churches. Continue your good work in each of their lives. Give them wisdom and grace. Grow them in Christ-likeness. To his glory. Amen.
Pray: Choose two or three church leaders you know – pray the Lord’s grace and power on their lives. To Christ’s glory.