EXCELLENCE EXCLUDES EXCESS
By Pastor Glenn Pease
As I read Barbara Shields book Winners-Women And The Nobel Prize, I was so impressed by the life and leadership of Agnes Gunxha, better known as Mother Teresa. As I read of her life and ministry I kept seeing her fulfilling the requirements that Paul lays down for one to be an elder, or leader, in the church. We see such words as blameless, not overbearing, not quick tempered, not given to much wine, not violent, and not pursuing dishonest gain.
That is a lot of nots that are not to be, but Paul does not stop with the negative, but goes on to add these positives: Be hospitable, love what is good, be self-controlled, be upright, be holy, be disciplined, hold firm to the truth, and encourage others. The ideal Christian life is one of balance with much that is popular in the world to be excluded, and much that is unpopular to be included. Negatives and positives in balance is what the Christian life is all about. I was impressed at how a nun could achieve this balance. She had been in a convent for 20 years, but at age 38 she launched a new ministry to the poorest of the poor in Calcutta, India. The filth and ugliness, and the daily death of babies and others starving was beyond description.
For months she worked alone. She would gather children between a hut and teach them the alphabet by writing with a stick on the ground. She had no money, for she had taken a vow of poverty. Some people became aware of what she was doing and gave her a little money and some bars of soap. These children had never seen a bar of soap. She taught them how to clean themselves, and she told them of the love of God. She had to beg for medicine to give to these people. Other women joined her. They would rise at 4:30 A. M. to worship and have a balanced breakfast. Mother Teresa was strong on having a good diet for health and strength to do the demanding work they were doing.
Their labor was all in vain she taught if it was not done in joy. Cheerfulness and love did more for people than food and medicine she taught, and so all her helpers had to join in the evening fun time where they would laugh and shout, and play games and sing. It was hard work, and it was often depressing, and so they needed this for balance. They lived in poverty like the people to whom they ministered. They would rescue abandoned and dying babies left in trash bins. Mother Teresa had a vast collection of photos of her children that had been adopted from her home to families around the world. She built the Town of Peace with the help of the Indian government. This is a town where lepers are treated, and where they learn a trade, and live a normal life.
We can't begin to describe all of her work among the world's poorest, and most rejected population. She touched so many lives and received an avalanche of awards from all over the world. Vast amounts of money were involved, and all of it went to building more ministry to the poor. She lived in a small room with no symbols of affluence. She could pack to move in about 10 minutes. Young men began to join her Missionaries of Charity, as they were called, and whole new ministries were started for men and boys in the slums. So many around the world began to contribute to her cause that she expanded and opened homes in most of the large cities in the world from New York to Tokyo.
What she learned is that the greatest hunger in the world is not for bread but for love. It is poverty of the spirit that is the heaviest burden to bear, and even rich people suffer this kind of poverty. In December of 1979 she flew from Calcutta to Oslo, Norway to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. It was the tradition to have a great banquet in the honor of the recipient of this great prize. She begged the committee to forget the banquet and give her the money. This added 7 thousand dollars to the 190 thousand dollar prize. She used it all to build homes for the poor and the lepers. That year she opened 14 centers outside of India. She has over 100 centers in operation with 7 thousand people a day being fed in Calcutta alone.
The stories of her love and care for those rejected by the world are endless. I share this description of her life and ministry because it exhibits what Paul is getting at as he lists the requirements for being a Christian leader. Excellence is the bottom line, and that means a life that displays the spirit of Christ in attitude and action. Here is a person who has over a lifetime demonstrated self-control. She could have changed radically from her commitment to the poor. She could have let the money she won lead her to greed. She could have been overcome by the chance to live the life of the rich and famous. But she was so disciplined and self-controlled that she did what many other Christian leaders could not do. She remained the same person with wealth in her hands as she was when she had nothing. That is excellence of spirit.
Paul says this is what Christian leaders are to be. They are not to be people who get captured by the culture, or by circumstances. They are to be people who are stable and consistent in their commitments regardless of changes in life. Christ-centered people are not violent, overbearing, and self-centered, which disqualifies one for Christian leadership.
There are many books today with studies that reveal that the Bible holds women equally accountable for living up to these standards of excellence. So as we look at the specifics we need to keep in mind that these apply to both sexes and not just to men, just because they were the vast majority of leaders in the early church. We are starting where we left off in a previous message. The next requirement to be a church leader is to be one who is-
The Greek word here is used only twice in the New Testament. It is powerful negative word that describes a person who is so arrogant and self-willed that they denounce any voice that it disagrees with them, and that includes the voice of God. This person who is so presumptuous as to think his view is always the only right one is not qualified to be a leader in the church. Why? Because he will be an offensive person who has no consideration for other people's perspective. Being closed like this will make him unsympathetic and judgmental, and this is a poor example of Christ likeness.
Keep in mind, you can be a Christian and still be all the bad things Paul says a leader is not to be. In other words, Christians can be people who are not pleasant to be around. They are saved by their trust in Christ, but they are far from sanctified, and far from being qualified to be leaders. If all Christians were mature and qualified, and living up to the standards and excellence that Paul lists here, there would be no need to distinguish between Christians who are qualified and those who are not. Anyone could serve as a leader, and listing these qualifications would be unnecessary if one was qualified simply by being a Christian. But it is not so. There are Christians who are self-willed and arrogant enough to consider everyone who disagrees with them as inferior. They are not good leadership material.
Let me share some of the ways the two cases of this word are translated. Peter uses it once in II Pet. 2:10: "Presumptuous are they and self-willed." Goodspeed has it, "Rash, headstrong men." The 20th Century New Testament has it. "Audacious and self-willed." Here in Titus other translations stress words like stubborn, arrogant, presumptuous, and overbearing. The reason such a person is not qualified to be a leader in the church is that they are not teachable, and so they are not open to the Word of God and the Holy Spirit. They already know all that is worth knowing in their mind, and such arrogance makes them unfit tools to help others to grow. If you are not open to grow, you are not a good example for others.
The philosopher Hume said something Paul and Peter would certainly say amen to. He wrote, "When men are most sure and arrogant they are commonly most mistaken, giving passion to views without that proper deliberation which alone can secure them from the grossest absurdities." The vast majority of heresy and religious nonsense that deceives masses of people comes from arrogant people who exalt their pet ideas to the level of God's revelation. As Paul goes on to say, the leader has to be able to encourage others by sound doctrine. The arrogant person will be more concerned with promoting his own ideas. A Christian leader is one whose primary concern is the truth God has clearly revealed, and not his own self-centered perspective.
The next negative quality the Christian leader should lack is to be not-
If you are arrogant and are convinced your subjective feelings and perspectives should be shared by all, you will likely have a short fuse when people disagree with you, and call your perspective foolishness. Arrogance leads to the hot temper, for the self-willed person feels that any attack on them is equivalent to an attack on God. To disagree with them is the essence of evil, and such evil needs to be smashed, and so the arrogant person is one who is convinced that anger and violence are justified when dealing with people who have the audacity to defy them.
Anger is a legitimate emotion for the Christian to have, but it must be like the anger of God and of Jesus to be a virtue. They were and are slow to anger, and always have it under control. The vice that Paul rejects here is to be quick tempered, or hot tempered, or short tempered. It is referring to those who are quarrelsome people, and who are always looking for a fight. Charles Ashcroft tells of the mountain guide who said to him as they climbed a jagged volcanic mountain in South America. "This would have been our tallest mountain if it had not blown its top." If you have ever seen pictures of Mt. St. Helen after it blew its top, you know how radically a mountain can be reduced by such an explosion.
That is Paul's point when it comes to Christian leadership. They can be reduced so quickly to a low level if they have quick temper. They are high risk to be in positions of leadership, for their lack of self-control can do great damage. Listen to this testimony of a wife who wrote to a counselor about her husband's temper. "I have a husband who is 99% good and 1% rotten. He is a lovable mate and a considerate father, but his one outstanding fault periodically ruins all his good qualities. That point is his violent temper. He is like a cow that gives a good, big pail of milk and with one, vicious kick, spills it all over the place. The peculiar thing is this: These spells come only once in a while and last for only a few minutes. But, when they happen and while they last, he is like a raving maniac. He snorts and cusses and cavorts until he is red in the face. Just as quickly as the storm begins it subsides. Then he is apologetic; admits he didn't mean the abusive things he said, and is really contrite and penitent. But before the stage is reached, sometimes almost irreparable damage is done."
That 1% of hot tempered violence in a 99% good man disqualifies him from being an elder, for the elder must be one who conveys a consistent testimony both in the church and in the world. Of course, this is a standard of near perfection, and who can measure up? Most of us have lost our temper and blown our top at some point in life. But the point is that many of us have also come to the place where we feel it coming on, and we have matured enough to know it spells trouble, and so we find ways to control the energy that threatens to explode. It is those who has reached this level of maturity who qualify to be elders. There is always the risk that any leader may still lose it under great pressure. Nobody can offer a guarantee, but when it is known to happen in a person's life on any sort of a regular basis, that person is not to be chosen as a leader.
A bad temper is a bad testimony. Some people never gain control of their temper. Euthymius tells of the monk who joined the monastery because he hoped that atmosphere would help him control his bad temper. But he found the other monks irritating and so he left. He went into a desert place to live alone, for that would remove him from all irritation he thought. But one day as he was using his only bowl to get water from the spring he bumped the bowl on himself and spilled it. He dipped it in again and as he walked away his foot slipped and he spilled the bowl again. In a furious passion he dashed the bowl against a stone and smashed it to pieces. When he cooled down he looked at his broken bowl and said, "What a fool I am! How can I escape the temptation which is in my very nature?" It was not other people, but his own hot tempered nature that was his problem, and the only solution was not escape, but self-control.
A mature Christian is one who has learned this. You often cannot control other people and irritable circumstances. You can only control how you react to them. Those who have learned to control their temper are qualified to be leaders. Alligators are harmless they say if you can just keep their mouth shut. This is true for people in leadership positions as well. It does not always happen, however, and you have the record of Moses, who was one of the greatest of leaders of God's people, losing his temper. God takes temper control so seriously that he punished Moses for his loss of control by forbidding him to inner the Promised Land.
This is not a mere minor defect in God's eyes. I have to confess that so many of the sins Paul makes a big deal about I have been conditioned to think of as minor. I have had deacons in my churches that I knew were hot tempered. One got so angry he tried to put his fist through a cabinet and broke his wrist. I like the guy and never dreamed this would disqualify him from leadership, for he was a good friend. So what if he blew up once in a while? It seemed to hurt him more than anyone else, and I just overlooked it as a minor matter. I have a hunch most of us feel this way about people we know with a quick temper. But Paul says we are to take it seriously. There is a place for anger and righteous indignation. But this is different from losing one's temper. That is a rational thought out response to evil, and not an explosion provoked by some spark of evil. Evil wins when it gets you to lose your temper and add to the world more evil. The poet speaks truth when he says-
When I have lost my temper
I have lost my reason too.
I am never proud of anything
Which angrily I do.
When I have talked in anger
And my cheeks are flaming red
I have always uttered something
That I wished I hadn't said.
In anger I have never done
A kindly deed, or wise,
But many things for which I know
I should apologize.
In looking back across my life
And all I've lost or made,
I can't recall a single time
When fury ever paid.
None are more Christ like than those who learn that a quick temper is the devil's tool, and that true strength of character is found in self-control. David MacLennon in his book Making The Most Of Your Best tells this story: "When the distinguished Negro Roland Hayes was a boy, he heard an old Negro preacher contrast two kinds of power confronting each other, Christ and Pilate. Pilate irked by the silence of Jesus, cried: "Why don't you answer me? Don't you know I have power?" The old preacher went on to say, "No matter how angry the crowd got, he never said a mumberlin word, not a word."
Years later Mr. Hayes stood before an audience in Berlin's Beethoven Hall. The audience was ugly, hostile, resentful of a Negro daring to sing in the center of Aryan culture. Hisses, growing louder and more ominous, greeted him. For 10 minutes Hayes stood there in silence, resentment and anger swelling up in him like an irresistible tide. Then he remembered the sermon of long ago, and One who answered his enemies not a word-"He never said a mumberlin word, not a word." He shouted back no angry resorts. Standing there silently, he prayed, knowing that ultimate power was on his side. "The quiet dignity of his courage subdued the savage spirits of his audience, and in hushed pianissimo he began to sing a song of Schubert. He won; without so much as a mumberlin word."
Temper control is a requirement for a Christian leader because it has always been a requirement for a mature person of God. The next requirement Paul lists is, "Not given to much wine." Other translations have it, "Not a lover of wine." "Not addicted to strong drink." Not a drunkard." "Not excessive in the use of wine." Here again we see a clear distinction between being successful and being qualified for leadership in the church. Many successful people drink to excess. If you could see the list of the patients who have been treated at the Betty Ford Clinic, you would see many of the most famous people in our culture. Many gifts people who are leaders in their profession are not qualified to be leaders in the church, and it is because they are often given to much wine. They may be superior in many ways to those who do not drink, but this habit is not consistent with the image that Christ desires His church to convey to the world.
There are cultures where it is a common practice for Christians to drink modest amounts of alcohol. But no where is it acceptable for a Christian to be called a drinker, or one who loves to consume alcohol to excess. The whole idea of self-control demands that a Christian leader not be under the control of any substance. Paul does not mention drugs, for that was not a major issue in his day, but this would certainly apply in our culture today. A Christian leader is not to be under the control of any drug. We are not talking about medicine, for there is a lot of alcohol in many medicines. We are talking about a life style where alcohol and drugs play a role in people's lives. Christian leaders are not to be a part of that scene.
Paul's stress is not on being given to much wine. This leaves the door open to the moderate use of wine. But elsewhere he says that if it is offensive the ideal is to be total abstinence. In Rom. 14:21 he writes, "It is better not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything else that will cause your brother to stumble." Dr. Carl Lundquist, former President of Bethel College and Seminary, did a through study of wine in the Bible, and he concluded that Paul did okay some moderate use of wine in the churches pastored by Timothy and Titus. He also concluded that the wine was not mere grape juice but was fermented wine. The evidence is over whelming that Jesus and the early Christians did drink fermented wine. He concludes that the New Testament clearly teaches moderation, but he taught total abstinence. Why? Because for 28 years as President of Bethel he saw a growing number of youth coming from our best churches who developed drinking problems.
Moderation can lead to excess, but abstinence never does. Too many people can take that first step and then not know how to stop. He felt that Christians should be preventing those who cannot stop from ever starting. Almost 10 million college students drink in America, and 50% of them develop serious drinking problems, and unfortunately many of them are Christians. I have known many Christian leaders who are moderate drinkers, and Paul's words here do not prohibit them from being leaders. But I have to agree with Dr. Lundquist. Abstinence is the best, for it prevents the tragedy of those who just cannot handle alcohol and tend to go to excess. Since the goal of Paul is excellence in all areas of life, Dr. Lundquist concludes that the risks are to high with moderation. Abstinence is the better way. Moderation is a must, however, for the bottom line of Paul's teaching is that excellence excludes excess.