First Steps (Pt 2)

Or, The Calling and Qualifications of Elders

Scripture: Titus 1:5-9

Date: June 9, 2024

Speaker: Sean Higgins

Identifying and installing elders is the first step Paul told to Titus to take, and that’s important because elders are to show the first steps in knowing the truth which accords with godliness. It is a noble task, shepherding those that Christ obtained with His own blood (per Acts 20:28). An elders’ work is also full of difficulties and requires daily deaths. So we see that there are ways to identify a man’s fitness for the calling.

The qualifications are as much for the churches on the island of Crete as they were for Titus himself. The whole discussion is public. For that matter, it is possible to recognize and affirm a man who has these qualities even while recognizing that you don’t. Everyone should listen/read, all of you should think, and we all must work with wisdom, especially as we consider how to apply what is specified for all the things that are not.

Under the first banner of being above reproach (verse 6) we look for a man’s faithfulness to his marriage vows and the fruitfulness of his fatherhood. He must be a one-woman man, and he must have children who are believers, whose behavior demonstrates that he knows how to disciple. You’re not an elder because you’re a father, but you can tell how a man will elder by how he fathers.

The second banner of above reproach (verses 7-9) introduces two more categories of qualifications. We already considered the health of his family, now we’ll consider second, his personal character and third, his commitment to doctrine.

An Elder’s Personal Character (verses 7-8)

I mentioned last time that “elder” and “overseer” and “steward” are all titles for the same person. Overseer or “bishop” reminds us that he must be paying attention; it’s supervising (with the super from Latin for “above”; he’s not the BEST visor but the visor-from-above). As God’s steward he’s working with God’s household (as it’s called in 1 Timothy 3:15), and all of this brings to mind Paul’s instructions to the Ephesian elders:

Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which He obtained with His own blood. (Acts 20:28)

To be qualified the man must have a pattern of obedience. We see the kinds of character that you should expect, starting with five “nots”.

He must not be arrogant or quick tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain (verse 7)

These are not the only ways a man can be selfish, but all these go with self-serving. Arrogant is “self-willed” (NASB), “overbearing” (NIV), of an autocratic nature—taking no account of other people’s thoughts. Quick tempered is a default emotion/passion of irritation taking it out on other people who aren’t recognizing and responding appropriately to his self-determined preeminence. A drunkard or one “given to wine” (KJV) refers not only to lack of control in physical appetites, but usually includes a desire to numb rather than deal with a problem. Violent is the worldly way of trying to win by physical force, and greedy for gain is money hungry. While it’s true that lots of churches don’t pay their pastors well, that doesn’t stop a lot of pastors from thinking ministry is a way to cash in.

Then we see six positives in verse 8:

but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. (verse 8)

These are personal virtues that show the man willing to submit to things outside of him. Hospitiable is serving others, with an emphasis on strangers more than extravagance; as Jonathan defined in his message on hospitality, honoring others as image-bearers, whether or not they show up with distinct external honor. An overseer must be able to see God’s glory reflected, however dimly, in others. Lover of good isn’t Stoicism, it has high expectations and abounding affections. Self-controlled (a fruit of the Spirit) and disciplined emphasize exercising conscious choice rather than being enslaved or manipulatable, and upright and holy speak to his consistent moral choices and pursuits.

An Elder’s Commitment to Doctrine (verse 9)

Watch a man’s care for his family, his care for personal behavior, and his care for the truth/teaching.

He must hold fast to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (verse 9)

There’s actually not a command in Greek at the beginning of verse 9, it’s a participle, and so still filling out how an elder is above reproach. He’s got to know the Word, love the Word, cling to the word. He’s holding fast (NASB), refusing to let go.

The trustworthy word as taught reminds us that he is a steward (verse 7), not only of God’s sheep but of God’s Word.

There are two parts of the so that : hold fast 1) to build and 2) to fight.

All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching to make the man of God complete (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Jesus prayed that His people would be sanctified by truth, and then said that the Word is truth (John 17:17). We learn from the Word who we are beholding, we are learning what He is like and what He likes. We are learning His ways, these are what build us up, and build up the body.

Sound doctrine is “healthy” teaching that results in well-being. It includes all the -ologies AND on-the-ground-ies. Yes the teaching about soteriology, and also sanctification. It’s about the Trinity and eternity, and it’s also how old ladies are to act at home (Titus 2:3). It’s the nature of Christ and all His commands (Matthew 28:20). It is propositional, and it is evident in practice (“truth that accords with godliness”).

There are also haters, and they were already on Crete, as we’ll see in the next paragraph (verses 10-16). It’s not just an academic or theoretical exercise to defend the faith delivered to the saints. Those who “speak against” are to be rebuked , corrected so that they quit it. Elders must have doctrinal backbone.

“nothing is more dangerous than that fickleness of which I have spoken, when a pastor does not steadfastly adhere to that doctrine of which he ought to be the unshaken defender.” (—John Calvin)

There are really four options, three of which are wrong.

  • Don’t care about doctrine and be nice.
  • Don’t care about doctrine and be a jerk.
  • Care about doctrine and be a jerk.
  • Care about doctrine and be patient. (See also 2 Timothy 2:24-26)

In Bible loving churches too often the bigger problem is (#3) when elders take themselves too seriously, when they act superior based on their knowledge (puffed up and without love, see 1 Corinthians 8:1, 13:1) rather than as stewards of it.

But in the world and especially in the Word there are things that are true and false, right and wrong. Truth not only has substance, it has shape, it has edges. Knowing and believing the truth saves, being ignorant of let alone denying truth damns. Truth builds the believer, truth edifies and equips the body.

Which doctrines? I’m not trying to be unclear here any more than some took me to be unclear on how old an elders’ kids need to be, if he has them, or when you get to stop connecting his kids behavior to his qualifications. There are doctrines that have more or less consequences if one is inconsistent. That said, to the Ephesian elders Paul said he was blameless only because he had told them the whole counsel of God (Acts 20:26-27, then 28 which I’ve already referenced a couple times). How much of the treasure can a steward lose before he’s counted unfaithful?

Overseers care about doctrine, they are committed to it. There are doctrinal contours and it requires courage to keep them. This isn’t to say that saying “I don’t know” is never the right answer, sort of like above reproach doesn’t mean “I never sin.” But elders must minimize disobedience to the Word as well as doubts about what it means.

For that matter, doctrine is intended to divide, true from false, which gets applied to sound and unsound teachers, and the latter need to be rebuked, not invited to present their side.

Holding fast to sound doctrine starts with elders, they take the first steps. But their steps make it so that slaves can adorn the doctrine (2:10). So, it’s fine that some know more, and even that some are more devoted to it, but it’s not fine to not grow more.


To whom much has been given, much is required. We’ve got so much more than the Apostles’ Creed and the Lord’s Prayer.

One of my favorite quotes is by G.K. Chesterton on how doctrine is like walls. (Of course, he didn’t believe in sola fide, so, any of us can have week spots.)

“We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the centre of the island; and their song had ceased.” (Chesterton, Orthodoxy)

We want godly men building and maintaining walls of sound doctrine, walls that enable and protect joyful fellowship in truth. The church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Pastors reap what they sow, by God’s grace. They are to take the first steps, in family and virtues and doctrine, and the church should follow.


Play and sing in the field because the walls are maintained. Don’t despise the walls of truth, they are a great safeguard for your living, for your people, for generations. Love the truth, speak the truth in love, that the whole body will grow up in every way into Christ.


But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18 ESV)

See more sermons from the Titus - Adorning the Doctrine series.