Sermon preached on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 12/18/2016 in Novato, CA.
1 Timothy 3:1-7
“Qualities Not to Have”
As we continue to work through the qualifications for elders, we will focus today on verse 3 in this list. You may recall that a couple sermons back I dealt with verse 2’s qualities of being sober, self-controlled, and respectable. At that time, I mentioned that the list of qualifications starts off with several positive qualities that we should have, followed by a list of negative qualities that we should not have. Well, verse 3 is largely that list of negative qualities. These are qualities we should not want to have as Christians. These are qualities that our elders must not have. And so, we see those qualities in verse 3. I’ll summarize and translate them into these four charcteristics that you don’t want be: not a drunkard, not violent, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.
Now before we dig into these negative qualities, let me explain how I’m going to cover them together in one sermon. I think we can group these in the sense that these are all lusts of the flesh. Or similarly, these are all idols of the heart. These are things that people can have an inordinate desire for. They can so crave these things that these things begin to control them or rule them in some way. What’s interesting is that each of these things, alcohol, money, even violence and quarrels are not inherently wrong in and of themselves. There is a time and place where each of these things could be used in a right way. But the negative qualities that we will discuss today are a perversion of these things. They are a wicked use of these things. Instead of these things being in service to man, when people are exhibiting these negative qualities they have taken these things and begun to serve them essentially. Or let me say it another way. We talked about being sober, self-controlled, and respectable. Well, these qualities we shouldn’t have are taking these like alcohol, money, and conflict and using them in a non-sober way, in a non-self-controlled way, in a non-respectable way. This is what these negative qualities have in common. They have become for the person possessing these negative qualities a lust that they must fill.
And so, I will now walk us through these negative qualities using the order you see on your outline for today. We’ll talk first about the negative quality of drunkenness. As mentioned when we talked before on verse 2’s qualification of soberness, we said that the use of alcohol is not inherently sinful. Let me begin by mentioning at least two non-sinful uses of alcohol. One, is it can be use medicinally. At the end of this letter, Paul even tells Timothy in 5:23 that he should be drinking more wine to help his stomach ailments. Another use of alcohol is for enjoyment purposes, in moderation. We discussed that before from Psalm 104:15. You could also add a verse like Ecclesiastes 9:7, which says, “Go, eat your bread with joy, and drink your wine with a merry heart.” So, there are non-sinful ways you could make use of alcoholic beverages. But you must do so in a sober, self-controlled, and respectable way.
Yet, this negative quality reminds us that there is a temptation toward alcohol becoming a lust of the flesh. As our pew Bible translates, someone could be “given to wine”. In other words, they become a lover of it so much, and of its intoxicating effects, that they use it sinfully. They become drunk off the wine because they have so lusted after it. The Bible is full of bad examples of people getting drunk and bad things happening. Some of the most egregious examples I cringe from even mentioning publicly before the children. Look up Genesis 9 and see what happened when Noah became drunk, resulting in him cursing the descendants of Canaan. Or look up Genesis 19 and see the shameful originals of the Moabites and the Ammonites when Lot’s daughters got him drunk. I could go on. But I will simply for now echo Paul’s command in Ephesians 5:18a, “Do not be drunk with wine for that is debauchery.” In case you don’t know remember what “debauchery” means, it is defined as “excessive indulgence in sensual pleasures” (Oxford Dictionary). That’s what a lust of the flesh is all about. And elder in the church must not struggle with this lust for drink.
I’ll deal with the next two negative qualities together. Let’s think about the negative qualities of being violent or quarrelsome. Again, even with these things, we can think of times where violence or quarreling is appropriate and thus not sinful. Though, it does depend on how you define those. Those words tend to be used generally in a negative way. But there are times where in some sense you may have to use violence or you may have to enter into an argument with someone. Ecclesiastes 3 is the chapter that talks about the different times and seasons for various things. Included in that list is that there is a time to kill and a time for war, as well as a time for peace and a time to heal, etc. For example, there is a sober, self-controlled, and respectable way that a man of God may have to use violence to defend his family from an attacker. Similarly, there is a sober, self-controlled, and respectable way that an elder would have to quarrel or argue with a heretic that rises up in the church. There is a time and a place for even violence and quarrels, in a certain sense.
Yet, these negative qualities in verse 3 remind us that there is a temptation toward violence and quarrels that become a lust of the flesh. In terms of violence, people can have a sort of blood lust. Or even more generally, they can deal with their conflicts or frustrations in a physical way. This word can also be translated as a striker, in other words someone who strikes out at people. And so, the person who struggles with this quality of being violent can take the challenges of life and solve them with some sort of physical force or venting. It can be an inner drive that they just feel they need to express; that they are only satisfied when they unleash on someone. It is scary to even think about. For some people, maybe they don’t actually strike another person, but they get verbally violent or they take their violence out on objects around the house instead of people. But these are all various expressions of this negative quality of being violent. Proverbs 3:31 speaks against this saying, “Do not envy a man of violence and do not choose any of his ways.” An elder in the church must not struggle with this lust for violence.
In terms of quarreling, we recognize that some people lust after debates and arguments. They are in love with being in a fight that they hope to be able to win. Surely part of the lust is being able to show others how they are right and that others are wrong. They crave this and so they are constantly picking fights about something. This is described more later in this letter, in 6:4. There it talks about some of the false teachers who are “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words.” Paul goes on to call this the “useless wranglings” of men with “corrupt minds.” Similarly, Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:14 to remind people not to quarrel over words because it is not profitable and only ruins the hearers. An elder in the church must not struggle with this lust for quarreling.
The last negative quality that I’ll deal with has to do with money. Interestingly, in some of the Greek manuscripts there are two references to money in verse 3. That’s the case in our pew Bible, though you may not recognize it because of the translation. Verse 3 in the pew Bible speaks of being “not greedy for money” which is only in some of the manuscripts, including the Textus Receptus. That word is found in the elder qualifications listed in Titus 1:7, in all the manuscripts. The nuance of this word is not just greed for money, but dishonest greed for money. In other words, it’s about someone loving money so much that they will try to get it in dishonest ways. The other word dealing with money in verse 3 is the final word in the verse, translated in the pew Bible as “covetous”. That word for “covetous” is in all the manuscripts and the word literally means not loving silver, or in other words not loving money. (I have no idea why the KJV and NKJV translated this as covetous but they translate the word that same way elsewhere too, Heb 13:5.)
So, again, like the other qualities we discussed today, we can think of how someone can have a right use of money. There is nothing inherently wrong with acquiring money. It is not a sin to be rich. Many people of God that the Bible commends have been rich. In fact, we are called to work hard in Ephesians 4:28 so that we can meet our earthly needs and so that we can also help others with their needs. Similarly, Paul says in 2 Thessalonians 3:10, “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat.” We also know that Christians are called to give cheerfully to the Lord and for the work of the church. To do that, we must earn money. I could go on and on, but hopefully the point is clear that money in itself is not a problem.
Yet, this negative quality reminds us that there is a temptation toward money becoming a lust of the flesh. We can love it so much that it becomes an idol. We can love it so much that we’ll make the acquisition of money our primary goal in life. We can love it so much that we’ll lie, steal, and cheat, to get it. We can love it so much that we work so hard that we don’t spend the time with family and friends that we should. We can love it so much that we become depressed or discontent when we don’t have as much we want. Jesus warned about this love of money in the sermon on the mount when he talked about what is your heart’s treasures. Do you treasure earthly treasure where moth and rust can destroy and thieves can break in and steal? Or is your heart treasuring heavenly treasure that can’t be stolen or destroyed? Later in this letter in 6:10, Paul says to Timothy, that “The love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, for which some have strayed from the faith in their greediness, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.” Paul says in that same chapter that instead godliness with contentment is great gain. This is an especially pertinent issue for elders. It’s in that same chapter 6 where Paul raises the concern that some might try to use godliness as a way to get rich. In other words, elders and especially pastors could try to use their position to get rich. If they love money, there will be a greater temptation for them to abuse their position in this regard. And yet despite that, even in general, elders need to set the example for all the saints. No Christian should want the quality of loving money. We should all fight against that temptation. And so accordingly an elder in the church must not struggle with this lust for money.
So far, we’ve gone through these negative qualities. We should not want these qualities as Christians. Yet if you find yourself with these lusts, what should you do? Well, I remember what Jesus said in Mark 7. When speaking against the religious leaders who were so concerned with external matters such as the kind of food people ate, he said that it was not what goes into a man that defiles him. Jesus said instead that it is “what comes out of a man, that defiles a man” (Mark 7:20). Jesus then went through a long list of various lusts of the flesh, and said that “all these evil things come from within and defile a man.” In other words, Jesus was saying that the reason why we have all these lusts of the flesh is because we have a heart problem. Humans have depraved hearts and need to be healed. And yet the good news is that Jesus also taught that he came as a physician to bring healing to sinners (Luke 5:31-32). Similarly, Paul exclaims in Romans 7:24, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” Paul then gives the answer: “Jesus Christ our Lord!”
We know that Jesus Christ, through the cross, brings forgiveness for the sins we commit through these various lusts. But it is also very wonderful that he brings growth and healing of our hearts in regards to these various lusts. An important way Jesus brings this in our lives right now is through his Spirit. John 14-16 is an extended teaching by Jesus of what his Spirit would do in believers’ lives. Listen to a few points from those chapters. In John 14:26, Jesus said, “But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you.” In John 15, Jesus speaks of the abundant fruit he will bring forth in our lives. In John 16:13, Jesus said that when the Spirit comes, “He will guide you into all truth.” In other words, the larger point in those chapters is that though Jesus was going back up to heaven, he wouldn’t stop the work he was doing in his disciple’s hearts. He would continue it by putting his Spirit within each of us. This is wonderful because it is a fulfillment of what we see in several places in the Old Testament, that God would come into his people’s hearts and make them anew and circumcise them and write his laws on their hearts. In other words, this trouble with our lusts of the flesh is confronted by Jesus by putting his Spirit within us.
Along these lines, I’d like you to turn now to Galatians 5 as a way to tie together and apply everything we’ve been talking today. Start in verse 16: “I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.” So, we see here this war that goes on right now within us. It’s the Spirit versus the flesh. And yet God calls us to walk in the way of the Spirit because we have the Spirit within us. That doesn’t take away from the fact that it is a battle. But it does tell us that there is a way forward in the midst of the battle. Let us keep reading. We notice in verses 19-21 a list of various lusts of the flesh. But then in verses 22-23 we see a list of various virtues that are grown in us as a fruit of the Spirit within us.
And then see the exhortation implied in verse 24. Verse 24, “Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”
Christians are those who have hung our lusts on the cross. To be fair, that doesn’t mean we don’t struggle with them anymore. But at our conversion we are giving them up. We put them to death in that sense. And then we must continue to look to put them to death. That’s the final command there in verse 25. Verse 25,
“If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.”
And so, I love this part of Galatians. In trying to apply today’s teaching from 1 Timothy about not wanting these different lusts of the flesh, we’ve acknowledged our struggles with them. We’ve rejoiced that Jesus has forgiven us of our all sins related to these lusts. But we’ve also said that Jesus is at work to grow and heal our hearts so that we can get rid of these lusts. And so, Galatians speaks of what this practically looks like. And it’s a wonderful truth and even a bit of a mystery. On the one hand, we grow out of these lusts into biblical virtues by the work of the Holy Spirit. On the other hand, we are called to actively walk and live in the Spirit. And so, we work because we trust God is working. We work daily on putting to death these lusts by the power of the Spirit, because we believe that the Spirit is at work within us to put these things to death.
Saints of God, there will be a day when God will complete the heart work in each of us. Believe in that. Trust in that. As much as you trust in Christ by faith to forgive you of your sins, trust in this too. It is also part of how Christ saves you. And yet in the meantime, join with the Spirit in fighting against these lusts. Do it, not trusting in yourself but in the grace he supplies. And may we rejoice that he tells us to look for elders who have had success in this area of combatting the lusts of the flesh. Rejoice because if God has given them such victory and growth in this life, then he can give you such too. To clarify, elders are not yet perfect in these areas. They will still have struggles too. Please be praying for them. But rejoice that God does raise up men with such qualifications. And pray for then that they would be the examples and help to others in the flock who are struggling with these kinds of lusts. Pray that God would use them to help the saints in these areas. And if you struggle with these things, don’t be embarrassed to go the elders for help and counsel. They are part of the way Christ by his Spirit works in his church for its growth.
And in it all, we greatly look forward to that day when the Lord will complete the work in our hearts, either at the day of his return, or when we personally go to be with him. Come quickly Lord Jesus, amen.
Copyright © 2016 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.