Saturday, July 15, 2017

Are You Spiritually Fit?

Photo by David McSpadden 2014

As we have been studying, the apostle Paul wrote a letter to his convert Titus, whom he left in charge of the churches in Crete, to instruct him on the principles of church leadership and on how to select suitable pastors. But as we further explore the book of Titus, we discover that qualifications for church leaders apply in a broader sense to older men in the church, and that these admirable character traits and behaviors should also apply to our older sisters in Christ (Titus 2:2-4).

In the world today, there is great emphasis on physical fitness, particularly among developed and wealthier nations. This is ironic, for richer countries tend to overindulge in food and drink and have higher degrees of automation in manufacture, agriculture, and transportation, resulting in a more sedentary lifestyle.

Residents of wealthy nations therefore tend to be less physically fit, even though the ideal epitomized by many celebrities and models is not only facial beauty, but also sleek, svelte and strong physique. Billions of dollars flow into health clubs, gym memberships, personal trainers, weight loss programs, dietary supplements and monitoring devices that track our every heart beat and calorie ingested or burned.

But Scripture warns us that although exercise and physical fitness can be good, we should be far more concerned about our spiritual fitness (1 Timothy 4:7-8). Those whom men thought of as natural leaders because of their physical attributes, like King Saul (1 Samuel 9:2; 10:23-24; 18:12), Samson (Judges 16), and Absalom (2 Samuel 14:25; 15-17), had spiritual weaknesses leading not only to their own downfall, but to the detriment of those for whom they should have been Godly examples.

Therefore, it is crucial that church leaders be spiritually fit. Similarly, all members of the body of Christ, or those who are born again (John 3:3-8) by their faith in His death, burial and resurrection (1 Corinthians 15:1-4), should follow His example of spiritual soundness in faith (Hebrews 11), doctrine (1 Corinthians 2:16), and lifestyle (Ephesians 4:1).

At the head of Paul’s list of qualifications for a pastor is that he be “blameless” (Titus 1: 6).  In the natural, that is impossible, for every pastor, bishop and pope are still human and must contend with their sin nature (Romans 7:14-25). To serve God and lead their flock, they must die daily to the desires of their flesh (1 Corinthians 15:31) and yield to the guidance of the indwelling Holy Spirit (Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:16).

Every born-again believer who does this can also be regarded as blameless, not because of their own merit, but because of the righteousness of Jesus Christ credited to their spiritual account (Romans 3:22). However, we must be sensitive to avoid even the appearance of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:22), rather than using our Christian liberty (Romans 8:21) to become a stumbling block to others (1 Corinthians 8:9), or to give them an excuse to criticize us (1 Corinthians 10:29).

Part of being blameless, or having a good reputation (Ecclesiastes 10:1) based on sound character, integrity, and especially faith, is being faithful, which is why Paul writes that the pastor should be the husband of one wife (Titus 1: 6). We cannot peer into the hearts of others (Luke 16:15) to see if they are faithful to God, but we will ultimately find out if they are unfaithful to their spouse (Luke 8:17). Marital infidelity has brought down many a church leader and demoralized and scattered his flock.

So clearly a church leader should not be a bigamist or an adulterer (Malachi 3:5; 1 Corinthians 6:9; Hebrews 13:4), and neither should any of us. But controversy arises over whether a previous marriage disqualifies a potential candidate for pastor, as in the case of a widower (even though he is allowed to remarry; 1 Corinthians 7:39), or one who was divorced before being saved.

At first glance it may seem inconsistent that Saul of Tarsus murdered Christians before he was saved (Acts 7:58) and then became the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:1) after he trusted Christ, whereas a man who was divorced before being saved and then remarried would be unfit to become a pastor.

But in the case of a pastor, who is the undershepherd of his flock, it may be wise to hold him to the highest possible standard so that he is above reproach (1 Timothy 3). Conversely, Paul’s requirement of the pastor being the husband of one wife (Titus 1: 6) disqualifies even himself, for he was unmarried. Ordinances of the Roman Catholic Church or other churches that prohibit priests from marrying are therefore unscriptural.

Interestingly, Paul also wrote that in terms of Christian service and godliness, celibacy was preferred over marriage for those who could remain single, for then they could devote their full attention to serving and pleasing God without being encumbered by the needs of their family (1 Corinthians 7:1-9; 32-40). Yet for those who might fall prey to sexual sins, Paul said it is better to marry than to be consumed by lustful temptation.

Although Paul was chosen by God to write fifteen books of the Bible, to evangelize the Gentiles (Romans 11:25), and to plant churches on his missionary journeys (Acts), he never served as a pastor, indicating that he himself followed the Holy-Spirit inspired rules he set forth to Titus.

We can surmise many reasons why it would be better for a pastor to be married with children, including having the experience, wisdom and compassion needed to counsel church members going through marital or parenting problems (2 Corinthians 1:4-6). In addition, he and his family could be Godly examples and role models to the congregation, and his wife could be a spiritual mother to women in the church (Titus 2).

For that reason, Paul writes that the pastor should have “faithful children not accused of riot or unruly” (Titus 1: 6). If a pastor cannot lead his own children to love and serve the Lord, their family, and their church, it is unlikely that he will lead his flock to do the same. For example, the priest Eli had sons who loved the devil, causing corruption, confusion and disobedience in the temple (1 Samuel 2:12-17) until God raised up the prophet Samuel to restore love for His Word (1 Samuel 3).

Although this is specifically a qualification for pastors, all born-again parents aspire to have children who are faithful to God and His Word (Ephesians 6:1-4). We should therefore pray fervently and regularly for our children, immerse them in God’s Word at home (Deuteronomy 6:4-9) and in a Bible-preaching church (Hebrews 10:25), and be Godly examples to them rather than asking them to “do as I say, not as I do.”

But if our children seem to turn away from God, we should not lose heart. Even God, Who is the perfect Father, faced rebellion from Adam and Eve (Genesis 3). Yet Scripture teaches that if we raise our children to obey God, then when they are old they will follow His ways. Even Adam and Eve, who brought the curse of sin on the world, were restored to fellowship with God, for they believed His promise and taught their children to obey Him (Genesis 4:1-3; 25-26).

As we continue to study the qualifications of a pastor, may we ask God for wisdom to see how we should similarly live out the Gospel in our own lives, families and churches! May we be spiritually fit, training under Holy Spirit direction to win the prize of the high calling of God in the race that is set before us! (1 Corinthians 9:24-25; Philippians 3:12-14).

© 2017 Laurie Collett


Frank E. Blasi said...

Dear Laurie,
I have always found Samson one of the most astonishing judges in the Old Testament. Sunday school pictures depict him as a super-muscular individual with hard, swelling biceps like barrels.
But I have come to realise that if that had been the case in real life, why would the Philistines be so obsessed in finding out the secret of his strength, if his bulging muscles were so obvious?
Samson's strength was supernatural, which meant that he must have looked like all other men with an average build. Therefore such displays of physical strength from an average built individual had caused fear among his enemies.
As for pastors, indeed back in those days when a hostile world was watching, any slip up made by a church leader would be fuel to the fires of Judaism and paganism alike. Having said that, I have known two former pastors who were both defrocked by their congregation for committing adultery, one of these was our former pastor of the church I regularly attend. The other leader was that of a local Pentecostal church.
An excellent blog, God bless.

Laurie Collett said...

Dear Frank,
What an excellent point, that Samson's physical appearance may have been rather unimpressive. I never really thought about it, perhaps taking for granted the Hollywood portrayals of Samson and Delilah, but your suggestion makes more sense. Supernatural strength is far more awe- and fear-inspiring than natural prowess.
Sadly, here in the US, it is not at all unusual for mega-church leaders and televangelists to be found out in adultery. Praise God for pastors who not only preach the Gospel, but follow God's Word in their own lives.
Thank you as always for your edifying and encouraging comments.
God bless,

Donald Fishgrab said...

Great article, Laurie.

Something that often gets ignored is that Paul is not setting a special standard for pastors or teachers. Rather he is saying that a pastor or teacher should demonstrate his ability to meet the standard God expects every Christian to grow into. If he cannot meet that standard himself, he will be unable to teach others to attain it.

Laurie Collett said...

Thanks, Donald! May we be blessed by Godly leaders, and hold ourselves to the same standards.
God bless,

Brenda said...

Hi Laurie,
I was talking to my husband this morning about 'train a child in the way it should go and it will remember it when it is older.' proverbs ch. 22 6. I was thinking of how my short time with my father and what he taught me, and my mothers loving correction came to my mind as I came to the Lord. I went astray in my teens but my father's voice often came to my mind to correct me, and now it is my Heavenly Father's voice that comes to my mind as I learn from my Lord through the Spirit of truth's teaching.

Those who have the rule over the church must come with the authority and the Word of God.
God bless you Laurie.

Laurie Collett said...

Hi Brenda,
Praise God for loving and Godly parents to lead and teach us in His ways. Praise God that no matter what family heritage we have, that God Himself is our perfect Parent once we place our faith in His Son.
God bless you too,