Holding to the Truth - Titus 1:9; 1 Timothy 3:9
“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” Those words begin the classic poem of 17th century poet John Donne, which he titled, No Man Is an Island.
Now, I have a trivia question for all the Pixar movie fans, both children and adults. Do any of you recognize the title of Donne’s poem from a movie? Some of you should, because they reference it in the 2004 animated movie The Incredibles? Do you remember now? When the superhero dad “Bob” receives a message for a mission on a remote island to destroy a deadly robot, the name of the remote island is Nomanisan Island.
John Donne coined that phrase to communicate that humans need each other. We don’t thrive in isolation; we die. We need a community; we need relationships. We need people to speak truth into our lives, to encourage us and spur us on. We need friendship and accountability. God designed us this way.
And so, it makes sense that as the kingdom of God comes, as the reign and rule of Jesus becomes more evident in the world and in our hearts and lives, the Spirit of God forms communities of believers which the Bible calls “churches.” By God’s grace, you can have a personal relationship with God through union with Christ, but if you are born again, you also have a special union and connection with other believers. Therefore, God established the local church and gave it structure to sustain it and make it grow.
In Philippians chapter 1, in the NT, the apostle Paul begins a letter to the church in the Macedonian city of Philippi, a church that he and his protégé Timothy established on a missionary journey. Eventually though, Paul and Timothy had to move on, but not before ensuring the installation of the necessary structure for that church. It is the biblical model of church government. Paul references it in his first sentence. He writes,  Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons.
In another one of his letters – the book of Titus – Paul uses the word “overseer” interchangeably with the word “elder.” Elders and deacons are God’s appointed way of caring for His church in the world. Today, and for the next two Sundays, we are going to look closely at the Biblical qualifications for these two God-ordained offices. In 1 Timothy 3, Paul refers to them as offices – public positions to which someone is appointed.
We do not rush to install men in these offices, and we do not install men simply because they are popular or well-liked, or have the most dynamic personality, or because they hold great influence or enjoy great worldly success in their careers. Instead, the Scriptures give certain criteria which helps us determine if a man is qualified for office. The Bible addresses beliefs, character, and responsibilities. Next week, we will look at the character requirements, and then the gifts and responsibilities on the following week, but today we begin today with the issue of belief.
The church is vulnerable to a host of lies and false teachings that contradict or misinterpret the Word of God. It has been this way through the ages. And for that reason, God commands that the body of Christ be guided, protected, and served by men who hold firmly to the truth of Scripture. Therefore, potential elders and deacons must be trained and examined before being installed into office to ensure that they hold to sound, Biblical belief.
The Bible does not present itself as a book of suggestions or advice we can take or leave.
Rather, it proclaims itself to be the very words of God, showing us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty he requires of us. So, we should not try adapt the Scriptures to fit our desires, opinions, or behavior. Instead, we should adapt our desires, opinions, and behavior to what the Scriptures teach us. This view of the Bible is vitally important for our elders and deacons.
Now, God’s Word describes the two offices as each having a different focus. The office of elder focuses on what we call “word ministry.” Elders lead the way in caring for the spiritual needs of the people, in the preaching and teaching of the church, giving wisdom and oversight related to the Word, guarding the church against false teaching, and confronting with truth those trapped in sin. We commonly refer to “elder” as an office of shepherding, ruling, and teaching.
The office of deacon focuses on what we call “deed ministry.” Deacons lead the way in caring for the physical needs of the people, handling issues related to the church’s resources, and leading us in caring for the poor and needy. We refer to “deacon” as a role of sympathy and service.
But maybe you’re wondering, “How do the beliefs of these men affect their ability to carry out these responsibilities?” What is the connection between their beliefs and their office?
Well, these two short verses printed on page 6 of the WG, which are from Paul’s pastoral NT letters, speak to this issue. They help us understand why we should take many months to plow through the core doctrines of the Christian faith with the men who are nominated as potential officers. Notice the outline there on page 6. We train and examine these men because those who lead in Word ministry must trust in God’s trustworthy Word as their guide and those who lead in Deed ministry must trust in God’s glorious deeds as their guide. So, let’s look at these together.
In Titus 1:9 the apostle Paul writes that an elder or overseer “must hold firm 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.” He must “hold firm to,” in other words, cling to or be devoted to God’s reliable message (His “trustworthy word”) that had been proclaimed among the people and then written down. If an elder does not hold to the whole message, he cannot do with the information what he will be charged with doing, which is the “word ministry” of the church:
giving instruction in sound doctrine and rebuking those who contradict sound doctrine.
This is very straight-forward. An elder should be orthodox in his beliefs. I’m sure you’ve heard that word before. What do I mean by orthodox? That’s a word formed from two old words. The Greek word “orthos” meaning “straight” or “right” and the Greek “doxa” meaning “to think.”
In Latin, the word “orthodox” was formed meaning “right belief.”
Think about the whole OT and NT. It’s a lot of information. And it is sufficient by itself, but some things in there are easier to understand than others. The apostles understood this to be the case. That’s why, at the end of 2 Peter, Peter says this about the apostle Paul’s writings: He writes, “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” “Other Scriptures” referred, in large part to the OT, the Hebrew Bible. Some things are more difficult to understand, therefore we benefit from the study and interpretation of Scripture throughout the history of the church.
For instance, the doctrine of the Trinity – the three-person nature of the one true God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – is not as immediately clear as is the doctrine of salvation in Jesus Christ.
The Apostles Creed and later the Nicene Creed were produced to clarify those things. But it became apparent as time went on that the church needs more than a few creeds to summarize the key teachings of the Bible for God’s people. And that is where the Westminster Standards come in.
The long document called the Westminster Confession and the question/answer documents called the Larger and Shorter Catechisms are summary documents to which Good Shepherd holds as a congregation in the Presbyterian Church in America. Those documents are not on the level of the Bible by any means. They simply seek to summarize the Bible’s teachings so any church member can understand. As an ordained minister in the PCA, I was examined to ensure that my whole body of belief aligns with the beliefs of those summary documents. It was a strenuous examination. Those who become elders at Good Shepherd will face a similar, though not as strenuous, examination.
To explain why, I need to point out a differentiation that we see in the Scriptures between two kinds of elders. Same office, not two different offices. But what we see is that some elders labor in preaching and teaching to the extent that is their livelihood. Paul describers this in 1 Timothy 5. He says,  Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. In the next verse, he quotes the OT, writing,  For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” The idea is that those who perform this core work of the church can be employed and give themselves full-time to this work, earning their living in this way. Paul calls it a “double honor” for someone like me as a pastor. Why “double?” Well, it’s because I get, 1. the office and 2. the salary.
But clearly in 1 Timothy 5, the implication is that some elders don’t earn their living this way. We don’t need as many preachers as we do shepherds of the people. And so, we see a distinction between two kinds of elders, a Teaching Elder and a Ruling Elder. I’m a TE in the PCA. Our Assistant Pastor, Jake Hooker, is as well. Our REs will be chosen from the congregation. REs still need to be able to teach, and TEs also have the ruling and shepherding component to our roles. REs don’t go through the same rigorous training and examination that is required of TEs, but it is still rigorous.
We will cover all the essential doctrines of the faith. And those REs must take a vow that they adhere to the whole of the Scriptures and, specifically, to the summary of belief laid out in the Westminster documents. It will take us many months to cover it all with these nominated men. But at the end, the goal is to identify men who “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.” Even though TEs do the bulk of preaching and teaching, REs must be able to test and approve what the TEs preach and teach. You see a healthy system of accountability there. God designed the church to have that accountability. There is none of this “one-man-at-the-top-by-himself” kind of church government. What a bad idea! You want to ruin a man? Give him absolute power and autonomy.
In the verses after Titus 1:9, Paul explains why belief is so important for an elder. He describes those who are teaching lies, and he says, “they are upsetting whole families.” The idea there is that they are destroying families. Not “upset” like you’re upset if the shirt you wanted to wear didn’t get washed. Not “upset” like someone cut you off on the highway. “Upset” like your boat got turned upside down in the middle of the ocean. Sound word ministry is not just a good idea. It is vital.
Those who lead in Word ministry must trust in God’s trustworthy Word as their guide. Do you see your own continual, God-designed need for it? If so, your desire should be that the elders of your church hold firmly to the trustworthy word of God. We all need teaching. We all need voices outside of ourselves speaking the Word of God to us. Otherwise, we find our way to an echo chamber where we constantly hear what we want to hear. How can an elder fulfill this God-ordained role if he does not hold to the God-centered message of the whole Scripture?
Now, we can think of “elder” as one side of a coin, and “deacon” as the other side. In 1 Timothy 3:9, Paul writes, Deacons…must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.” The mystery of the faith. What examples come to mind when you hear “mystery?” Stonehenge, Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster? A mystery is something which remains unclear. How do you hold to a mystery? The Christian faith is a mystery which has been made clear. In Ephesians 3, Paul describes the mystery of God’s will, and he says,  This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.
It was puzzling to Jews that non-Jews could have equal standing as the people of God, though they were not blood descendants of Abraham, though they did not keep the ceremonial laws of the OT. God revealed this through Jesus, and to the apostles, and it related back to God’s promise to Abraham that through him all the peoples of the earth would be blessed. But we can think about this mystery in even broader terms. It refers to the whole of God’s revealed truth in the Christian faith. It refers to all that is revealed by God to us which we should believe. How we would be saved was a mystery, but God made it clear. His plan for fulfilling the covenant with Abraham was a mystery, but God made it clear. So, the requirement for deacons goes hand in hand with what is required of elders, although, interestingly, with this different wording. And for good reason.
When we think of the role of deacon, it is one of “deed ministry.” Acts 6 records the calling of the first deacons. Verse  Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution.
The conflict was that the non-Jewish Christians felt that their widows were getting overlooked compared to the Jewish Christian widows. Verse  And the twelve (that is, the apostles) summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.  Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.  But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.”
Qualified men were chosen to take care of this need, and the Word says, “These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them.  And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem. This passage shows the differentiation between “word ministry” and “deed ministry.” The elders were caring for spiritual needs of the church, and the deacons, as their partners in service, could then address and care for physical needs of the church with compassion.
Any good deacon must hold to the revealed will of God, which God has shown us not only in what he has said, but in what he has done. God brings people into his family from all walks of life and backgrounds, and the church must care for them all. Therefore, deacons, like elders, must hold to the essential doctrines of the faith. Here at GS, deacons must be examined to see that they adhere to the whole of Scripture and to its summary in the Westminster documents.
13th century Italian friar Francis of Assisi is often quoted as having said, "Preach the gospel at all times; when necessary, use words." However, the quote doesn’t exist in any of his writings,
and there’s no evidence that he ever said this, although he did say that we should preach by our deeds. But he never elevated deeds above articulating the truth of God’s Word. Francis’ first biographer was Thomas of Celeno, who wrote about Francis just three years after his death. He points out that Francis was passionately devoted to telling the gospel message.
But deeds matter also. James says that faith without works is dead. And so, deacons are vital to the work of the church. Deacons are JV. They are not the B team. That is especially apparent here at GS. So much deed ministry goes into us enjoying worship and fellowship here at Briggs each week.
Do you see your own continual, God-designed need for deed ministry? If you so, your desire should be that the deacons of your church hold to the revelation of God’s glorious deeds. We all need to be served. This is an essential part of faith in Christ. After all, Jesus said that he came to serve us. We all need to learn to let others serve us sometimes. Otherwise, we develop this erroneous idea that we are self-sufficient. While self-reliance, hard work, and personal responsibility certainly have a place in life, no man is an island.
You need others. You need to let others do for you sometimes. Our deacons will lead the way in this. And how can a deacon fulfill this God-ordained role if he does not have sound belief in all that God done for his people? Those who lead in Deed ministry must trust in God’s glorious deeds as their guide.
When we look at these two offices together, as two sides of the same coin, we see that they reflect the work of God in the world. From the beginning, God has been doing word ministry and deed ministry. This is what the Scriptures show us from start to finish. God began history with trustworthy words and glorious deeds.
The pinnacle of those words and deeds was the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Nowhere is word ministry on better display than in the shepherding, preaching, teaching, and ruling of Jesus. Nowhere is the deed ministry of service and sympathy on better display than that of Jesus. Only one man embodied all the gifts and could meet every need. He spoke the ultimate words. He performed the ultimate deeds of service. And so, we worship him and trust in him.
Do you know him? Turn from your sin and trust in the sufficient sacrifice of his life on the cross for your sins. Repent and believe in King Jesus! Because understand this, He is your King. And just as he began history with words and deeds, so will he complete history. The King will come back again. And then it will be too late to receive him as your King. But he calls you today, and he equips his church to join him, speaking his words and doing his deeds as he brings his kingdom.
Let’s pray together.