A sermon by Dr Donald T. Williams - donaldtwilliams.com

Sermon Index

Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 11/12/2000

1 Timothy 3:1-7

The Office of Elder: The Universal Priesthood

We have seen that Paul's theme in 1 Tim. is to prepare Timothy for leadership in the Church after the passing of the Apostles by teaching him what it is to live the Christian life in the context of the people of God and their mission (1 Tim. 3:15). In the light of the fact that Christ came into the world to save sinners (1:5), that God desires all men to be saved (2:4), and that there is one God and one Mediator (2:5), how ought we to conduct ourselves as the people of God? So Paul instructs Timothy how to teach (1:3-5), fight (1:18) and pray (2:1f) in the light of these truths. Now in chapter 3 he covers the qualifications for church office. This is the nuts and bolts of Church life.

The tendency of many is to tune out: "This is not for me because I will never be an elder/pastor etc." Now, I could say, "But you might be on a pulpit committee someday, and you will certainly have to vote on people who are put forth as candidates, so you still to know this material." Or I might say, "You need to understand the pastor's/elder's role so you can pray for him and support him in it more effectively." And I would be telling the truth. But much more importantly, I need to say that you need this passage because you ARE a minister of the Gospel in one sense already if you are a Believer at all. We call this doctrine the Universal Priesthood of Believers (1 Pet. 2:5, 9). All Christians are called to be priests; all are called to "proclaim the excellencies of Him who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light." The whole Church is supposed to be doing this together; they do not just hire the preacher to do it. So while the qualifications are especially pertinent for him, they are not irelevant to any Christian.

The Universal Priesthood, in other words, does not just mean that we can all have direct access to God without going through any other human mediator; it also means that there is no essential difference between the clergy and the laity. I am still amazed by the reactions I get when people find out I am a minister. Their language changes, they may ask me to pray for someone. Well, why shouldn't they? The problem is that you can tell from their tone of voice that they think I have some kind of special access to God, some kind of extra pull with him. I do not. I differ from you only as the professional from the amateur. It is expedient that the Church support a few gifted people to perform full time and exercise leadership in that ministry which the whole Body shares together. But the Church is not a building, an institution, or a program to which you can come; it is a kingdom, a nation, or a family of priests who are all called to proclaim the excellencies of God. What is your reason for being here? Only to receive ministry? That is unbiblical. You do not come to watch me do the ministry and to cheer from the sidelines; it is something we are supposed to do together. People who have never stood where I am standing cannot possibly appreciate how much active listening--only that--contributes to the whole atmosphere and dynamics of the service. But there is much more to it than that, though for some people, it would be a start.

We will look at the qualifications for ministry themselves next week. But today I want to see in verse 1 the concept of the Call to ministry. Before we even start to think of the calling to be a pastor or missionary etc. we must place that Call in the context of the Universal Priesthood of Believers and hence of the General Calling which applies to all Christians. We are all supposed to be proclaiming the excellencies of Him who called us; we are all supposed to be involved in the process of making disciples of all nations. Only when we are obeying the General Calling are we ready to ask whether we have a particular Calling.

Most Christians seem to conceive the call to the ministry as a kind of brick from heaven that hits you on the head. The typical testimony I hear is of someone for whom the ministry or the mission field was the last thing he or she wanted to do, but God kept pestering them until they gave in. No doubt we are a rebellious people and God sometimes has to work that way. But this is not the NT pattern. Paul assumes in 3:1 that people are going to WANT to be elders, pastors, or deacons. The Calling of God to ministry starts with His planting holy desires in our hearts. I recall sitting under the expository ministry of Dr. Paul R. Van Gorder in my high-school days and saying to the Lord, "It would be really great if someday you would let me do for others what this man is doing for me." That was the first stirrings of the Call in my own life, and it seems to fit the pattern Paul expects here. Then, when God gives you the desire to serve, you look to see if you have the qualifications and gifts required (as laid out in verses 2-7). Sometimes these things are there only in potential at first, but they must be there. Then the Church must confirm that they are there (2 Cor. 8:19). Thus the subjective internal Calling is confirmed by the objective and external confirmation of the Church, which eventually leads to the laying on of hands and ordination.

In a healthy Church, this is the way it will work. As people grow in love for the Lord and His People, as they become aware of needs, they naturally desire to do something to meet those needs. And the Church then sets aside those in whom it recognizes preeminence in those gifts required for that ministry, and in those qualifications required of all Believers, for special service and leadership and church office. If any one aspire to such office, it is a fine thing. Now let's look for the qualifications--which we will do, Lord willing, next week.

Here endeth the lesson. Dr. Donald T. Williams