Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 1/1/2017 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
“Rules His Own House Well”
We continue today going through the list of qualifications for elders. Today we will be dealing with the quality of “ruling his own house well” found in verses 4 and 5. We see here that when considering a man for the office of elder, we should look not only at him, but also at his household. To be clear, we are not evaluating his family’s fitness per se. But we are looking for how his leadership is reflected in his family and the management of his household. This becomes an issue of stewardship ultimately. How has this man stewarded what God has already given him, in terms of his house affairs and especially his wife and kids.
Let us begin considering this topic today by considering the phrase “ruling well”. That’s a key part of this. He must rule his house and he must rule it well. The word “rule” here is the idea of being set in charge of his house. The man is to oversee and manage and provide leadership in the affairs of his house. What is being assumed here is spelled out elsewhere in Scripture, that the man is to be the head of his house. He is to lead his wife and together they are to lead their children. In our egalitarian society, this notion may not be popular. But it is an idea spelled out in various passages. The household codes of Colossians 3, and Ephesians 5-6 are certainly some initial passages to point you to. 1 Corinthians 11:30 is another good one which speaks of a husband being the head of his wife. I could go on. But for today, please recognize that this passage is rightfully assuming that in a household, the husband and father is to be the head of that household. Consequently, he must rule or manage that household well. It is a matter of stewardship. Of course, part of why our egalitarian society has fought against this notion of a man being the head of his house, is because too many men have not ruled their house well. They’ve ruled like they are some tyrant king or harsh dictator. But the husband who rules like that is not ruling well nor is he obeying the Bible when he rules like that. Rather, the Bible commands him to love his wife and not be harsh with her, and commands him to not exasperate his children in his parenting of them.
So, a man of God must rule his house and he must rule it well. The word “well” can be translated as good or even beautiful. The idea is that the management of his house is done commendably. So, what does it looks like for him to rule his house well? What should we look for to know if he is actually managing his house in this commendable way? Well, our passage gives us one good place to start. Look at his children. Does the fruit of his parenting demonstrate a job well done? Since this passage specifically draws our attention to that, that will be our second main point for our sermon today. But before we get there, I would like us to recognize that parenting is only one aspect of managing a house. There are many other items to highlight, biblically speaking. I’ll try to highlight some of the more important aspects.
First would then be to quote the words of Joshua from Joshua 24:15. There, Joshua told Israel, “As for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.” When evaluating if a Christian man is managing his house well, surely this is the first place to start. Can this be said of his house, that he is running a Christian home? As a leader, the most important leadership he can provide for his family is spiritual. There are many things to look for in this one aspect, but for starters, is there family worship aka family devotions going on? In other words, is he leading his family in prayer and in studying the scriptures and in praising God from their home? Similarly, is he making sure his family is involved in church and in the life of the church community? These are important places to start when looking to his spiritual leadership in his home.
A next aspect of his leadership at home is concerning his wife. Is he loving her like Christ loved the church, per Ephesians 5. Is he kind and considerate toward her, per 1 Peter 3:7. Is he demonstrating spiritual leadership with her specifically? Is she showing proper submission, and if not, what does that say about his ability to manage his house properly? Later in this chapter, when it speaks about the qualifications for deacons, it mentions in verse 11 several qualities that a deacon’s wife should have. It says that a deacon’s wife must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober, faithful in all things. There, I think the idea is that you can learn about the deacon’s leadership skills by observing his wife’s conduct. And the same goes here when considering an elder. If a man’s wife is out of control and he’s not doing anything about it, then he obviously is in no place to take on leadership responsibilities in the church.
A next aspect of his leadership at home is concerning his finances. How does he handle money? Does he work hard in his job per Ephesians 4:27 so that he can try to provide for his family? And then what does he do with the money that he does get? Does he show biblical restraint in looking to live within his means, or does he overspend and find himself in debt because of prodigal living? Does he wisely budget and plan with his finances like we see commended in the Proverbs (e.g. Proverbs 27:23)? Does he wisely save for the future, while not falling into the trap of unrighteous hoarding or the love of money? Is he also generous with any surplus? These are some biblical principles on finances that should be demonstrated by someone who is the head of their house.
Another aspect of his leadership is seen in his decision making. Do the decisions that he make for his family demonstrate wisdom, good order, and excellence? For example, if you read Proverbs, you find lots of wisdom that would apply to various decisions for a household. Do you see that kind of wisdom being lived out in the decisions he makes for his family? Or instead do his decisions tend to look more like the description of the fool in Proverbs? Stepping back, you might simply ask if he is even acting as an overseer in wise watchfulness over his house? Or is this a duty he has neglected?
I could go on. But hopefully these several aspects get you thinking about what it looks like to rule well a household. I’d like to now turn in our second point to think about the specific aspect of parenting. As I mentioned, these verses choose to highlight that as one specific aspect of a man ruling his house well. Verse 3 says that he is to have children in submission with all reverence. The word for submission is the standard word the Bible for heeding the authority of the person who is in charge. This language again enforces the idea that there is to be an authority structure, a government so to speak, within the family. And so, this means the father needs to be running his home in such a way that the kids are learning submission. Discipline is a key component to this.
And so, this clearly raises the topic of how a Christian is to parent and rear their children. I will say a few things about this. First off, let me point out that there are a lot of Christian parenting books out there, and they don’t all land on the same page in the details. Yes, most have the same general themes, but they might differ on some specifics. I think a big reason for that is that the Bible is not a parenting book. Yes, there are a number of important passages in the Bible that speak to how parents are to parent. We definitely need to learn our overall duty as parents from the Bible. But we must recognize that it is by no means given as a complete parenting handbook. We must take what it does teach and use wisdom and prudence to apply to our specific situation.
So, one of these larger principles in Scripture about parenting is that parents must discipline their children. Proverbs 13:24, “Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” Proverbs 22:15, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” To clarify, this doesn’t say you should beat your children. The Bible speaks against physical abuse and harsh treatment of your children, even while it does speak clearly of the benefits of physical punishment. The point of disciplining children is help their learn godliness and obedience. Hebrews 12 says it is to be done out of love for your children. You want them to learn while they are under your care how to live in a righteous, commendable way, so that they can grow up and not only be productive citizens but also mature Christians in service to the Lord.
Again, we need wisdom in how we implement this. I’ll give you a few examples of this kind of wisdom we need here. We mentioned about not being too harsh or excessive in your discipline. Well, on the flip side, some parents need to be encouraged to spank harder. Because our society can be so anti-spanking, some people don’t spank hard enough to get the attention of the child, and then they give it up and say it didn’t work. Then they wonder why their child is so disobedient. Again, there is wisdom needed here. Some people might be spanking their child too hard, others not hard enough. But as a parent ask the question and keep asking the question so you are constantly trying to evaluate how you are doing as a parent. Another example of wisdom needed is in the case of adopted children. Depending on the circumstances of the adoption, there are often a host of complicating factors and when and how you discipline may be different and need an extra measure of wisdom given the situation. One last point of wisdom. If you or someone you knows like to count to three, I urge you to abandon this. Teach your kids that you expect them to obey the first time they are asked and right when they are asked. (This is a pet peeve of mine, I confess).
Okay, so the point here is that observing the conduct of the children can clue you in on the leadership ability of the man under consideration for eldership. Unruly kids would be a red flag and speak against him being qualified. To clarify, this doesn’t mean that the kids never disobey their parents or get in trouble. No child is going to be perfect. Rather, when I look for this qualification, I am less concerned that a child does something wrong here or there. I am more concerned about how the father handles the matter when the child does do something wrong. In that case, does the father discipline the child in a wise and appropriate way? Or does he fall into the trap of King David when he heard that Amnon violated his half-sister Tamar? Scripture says that David was very angry about Amnon’s sin but did he nothing about it. How a man handles the matter when a child messes up in some big way can say volumes about his ability to manage his house.
The last thing I’ll mention today about parenting is that in verse 4 it has the phrase “with reverence.” A more modern translation would be “with dignity.” The grammar is ambiguous here in the Greek. Is this describing that the children’s submission should show dignity toward their father? That’s possible and certainly is something that we should look for. Or it this describing that a father’s disciplining his children is done with dignity; in other words, he is not falling into the various sinful abuses we talked about in how he parents his kids but rather teaches them obedience in a commendable and respectable way. That’s also grammatically possible and what I tend to think is Paul’s intention here. Though both concepts are certainly biblical.
Turning now to our last point for today, I want us to apply this all to caring for God’s church. You see that’s the whole point of this. Verse 5, “For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” The logic here seems to be that of a lesser thing to a greater thing. In other words, it would be a greater responsibility to help care for a whole church. But if a man can’t do well in governing his own home which is a smaller thing, why would we give him a greater responsibility to care for the church?
You could think of this almost like a resume. The man’s caring for his family is part of his experience to say whether he’s up to the task of caring for the church. To clarify, I’m not saying that a man must be married with kids to be an elder. I already spoke against that in a previous sermon. But we do see here a principle that a man’s past leadership and stewardship experience has something to say of whether he’d be qualified to be an elder. Thus, we could apply this idea to say that if the man has other experiences in leadership and management experience then we should look at how he’s done with those experiences too. Maybe he’s not married and doesn’t have kids. But maybe his job involves him managing and overseeing people and resources. If he’s done well, that speaks to his abilities. But if he has greatly struggled in that role, then that would likely speak against his suitability as an elder. It would be helpful to note here that just because you are an excellent father and head of house won’t guarantee that you will also be a good elder. Yet it is hard to see how if you weren’t a good father and head of house that you are going to be a good elder.
So then realize that verse 5 is reminding us again what an elder’s job is about. Like we saw earlier that part of the job is to be a teacher in the church, we see here that a big part of the job is to care for the church as one its leaders or rulers. 1 Thessalonians 5:12 reminds us that in the church there are people who are over the church members in the Lord. They are not to lord that over the people, but they should act as servant-leaders who ultimately are accountable to Jesus for how they have cared for the church. Thus, elders will be involved in received and dismissing members in and out of the church, exercising the keys of the kingdom that Christ gave his church. They will be in charge of making decisions for the church, especially in judicial matters. They will need to nurture and shepherd the people, keeping watch over them as they teach the whole counsel of God publicly and from house to house. They will need to pray for the people and with the people. These are a few of the aspects of caring for and managing the church of God.
In this last point where we relate one’s management of their house to how an elder cares for the church, I wanted to highlight that comparison. The management of the church is related to the management of a house. The church is compared to a house. Think about that. The church is compared to a house. And Scripture does in fact use that language about the church. In other words, Christians, church members, are part of God’s house. Ephesians 2:19, “You are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God.” Right now, already, we are part of God’s house. That’s awesome. And the reason why we are part of his house is Jesus Christ. By faith in Jesus Christ we have been made children of God and brought into his home. We sit at the table of God. This is our present spiritual reality now as Christians.
And yet we also know that right now we have to believe in that by faith, because right now we are physically living in this world full with its troubles and challenges. And yet remember what Jesus said before he left. He said in John 14 that he was going to his Father’s house – keyword house. And he said that, “In My Father’s house are many mansions… I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to myself; that where I am, there you may be also.” Saints, isn’t that glorious to think about? It is a fitting comparison to think of how a man cares for his own house before he tries to care for God’s house. And we are God’s house. Already. And even more so in the future, when we go the place Jesus has prepared for us for eternity. Let us be renewed in joy today at the idea that we are part of God’s house. No matter how good or bad are the houses you have been a part of in this life, God’s house is better! It’s the best house! How wonderful it is to belong to his house by grace!
In closing, brothers and sisters, I leave you with the application of stewardship. Though we may not all be heads of houses or elders in the church, we all have different things that God has given to us to steward. May we look to be faithful stewards by his grace. Let us be diligent in our stewardship. Let us use wisdom in our stewardship. May God’s Word especially tell us our duties in whatever we have to steward. And may all our stewardship be done with the ultimate goal in serving Christ and his kingdom. May we be busy about this stewarding work until Christ returns to bring us to our Father’s home for eternity. Amen.
Copyright © 2017 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.