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  • Writer's pictureMcYoung Y. Yang

An Attribute of a Faithful Elder: A Non-Quarrelsome Fighter

Updated: Aug 21, 2023

The Art of Fighting Without Fighting:

The boat continuously shifts as the waves jostled the passengers who were anxiously awaiting their arrival to a discreet, undisclosed destination. The winds rustled violently against the starboard bow while the workers stumbled amid their duties. In between all of the commotion, a restless patron—agitated in his angst to demonstrate his combative superiority—instigates a physical altercation by tripping one of the unassuming workers and thrusting him to the hardwood floor. Lee, played by Bruce Lee himself, gently glances at the foes as the agitator turns his attention to the undercover agent. After a few shadow boxing blows, the patron inquires, “What is your style?”


Lee irritated, responds assuredly, “My style? You can call it the art of fighting without fighting.”


Dumbfounded, the patron is eager to test himself against such an inquisitive and curious form of martial arts. He agrees to venture toward an offshore island and boards himself upon a dinghy attached to the boat. Once secured upon the small vessel, Lee unhooks the agitator from the ship and watches him scurry amid the rough waves of the sea. The workers and passengers celebrate while Lee, a skilled martial artist as we will find, rectifies the tension-filled situation without engaging in any form of physical combat. Though he was rigorously trained and equipped to physically subdue his opponent, his disposition was to find a solution that would not result in further physical harm. At the end, it was truly the art of fighting without fighting!


The Ability to Throw Spiritual Hands:


Though the posture of an elder should be one of gentleness and compassion (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1-7; 2 Tim. 2:24), this does not negate the overseer’s need to fend and fight off wolves that may employ detrimental harm to the flock and fold of Christ. In other words, an elder’s tender oversight should not be presumed as weakness, passiveness, nor an apathetic fragility toward a stern ability to safeguard the Gospel and the covenantal fold. Therefore, the aim of this blog will seek to distinguish between the characteristic traits of an elder whose posture is to be (1) non-quarrelsome and yet (2) called simultaneously to stand on the fringes of the flock of Christ fending off ravenous wolves and self-promoting heretics for the sake of the Gospel and the good of the church.


Be Like Water. The characteristics of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 must not be minimized when searching for a qualified elder. For our purposes, the non-quarrelsome characteristic is indicative of a seasoned believer whose emotional fortitude is informed and enlightened by the abiding truth of God’s Word. The plurality of leaders called to shepherd the flock of Christ, then, should not be subsumed under the guise of cultural markers, i.e., tribal leader, nor societal standards, i.e., educational/vocational prestige.[1] Rather, an overseer should be marked out by the biblical standards clearly laid out by Scripture.


With that being said, one of the attributes that should mark an elder is, again, to be “gentle, not quarrelsome” (1 Tim. 3:3b; cf. 2 Tim. 2:24). Or as John Calvin inserts, “It is common knowledge how ridiculous it is to be more ready to strike a blow or draw the sword than to settle other people’s quarrels by the exercise of responsible authority. Thus by ‘strikers’ he means men who deal in threats and warlike deeds.”[2] The posture of an elder should not be simply to revert toward combative resolutions but to seek peaceful settlements. The trait of non-quarrelsomeness is contrasted by drunkenness and violence that is unbecoming of an overseer (cf. 1 Tim. 3:3a). Meaning, drunkenness is often coupled with fits of rage and anger. This is largely due to surrendering one’s mindfulness and alertness to alcohol which impairs basic judgement (Pro. 20:1; 23:29-35; 1 Cor. 6:9–10; Gal. 5:19–21; Rom. 13:13–14). This is coupled with Paul’s description in verse 2 for an elder, as translated in the ESV, to be “sober-minded” (cf. Titus 2:2) or, in the NIV, “temperate”. These descriptors find their translation from the Greek term nēphalios which literally is rendered as “wineless” or “unmixed with wine”. To this end, an elder should embody a levelheadedness that engages confrontation with a temperedness in biblical morality (cf. Rom. 12:2). Or said differently, an elder when encountering strife should not be motivated by worldly gain through carnal means. Rather, the quality of an elder should strive toward love which is tethered to biblical truth (cf. Jn. 14:21; 2 Tim. 2:25; Titus 3:10-11; 1 Jn. 5:1-3). Or as Thomas R. Schreiner contends, “Orthodox doctrine, Paul insists, leads to love, and hence orthodoxy is immensely practical.”[3] This, in turn, will inform and advise their disposition in granting oversight to the flock and fold of Christ.


Boards Don’t Hit Back. Consequently, a non-quarrelsome disposition of an elder does not equate to an inability nor an unwillingness to defend the fold of Christ. Quite the contrary, an elder must be able to stand firm in the line of fire for the sake of Truth. Meaning, an elder has a moral obligation to guard the Gospel and, in turn, train to combat against attacks according to their form and substance.


The Apostle Paul affirms this notion when he says, “[we] destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5). These verbs are not passive in their thrust, but rather proactive in their aim to honor Christ and protect the covenant community. The main verb “destroy” comes from the Greek term kathairountes which means to “pull down” or “depose”. This is necessary for Paul because such arguments (Gk. logismous) “suggest the supposed cleverness of human wisdom, which is so satisfied with itself that it has no need of God, or evolves its own god, made in its own image.”[4] The commentator goes on to say, “[Paul] is ready enough to fight if that be necessary, but he is not fighting on his own account, that men may recognize what an important apostle he is and render obedience to him. The centre of the stage belongs no more to him than to his rivals, but to Christ only.”[5] That is to say, destroying man-centered, demonic arguments is to put on display the powerful truth of Christ.


Throughout the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul charges the overseers to “guard the good deposit” (2 Tim. 1:14; cf. 1:12; 1 Tim. 6:20; Titus 2:15; italics mine). This defense, then, is propagated in an aggressive offense to multiply the Gospel forward through faithful teaching and modeling. This imagery is provoked through the word “entrust” found throughout the pastoral letters which is rendered from the Greek term paratithemai (cf. 1 Tim. 1:11, 18; 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:12, 14; 2:2; Titus 1:3). This can be better rendered as “to place beside” or “to set before”; that is, to protect and, thus, defend the Good News is to set the unadulterated Gospel before the people of God. Or, as the Apostle Paul commends, “what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men” (2 Tim. 2:2; italics mine). Timothy’s work, then—that is, his work as an elder/pastor—is to combat erroneous ideologies and myths through the faithful preaching and teaching of the Gospel. Or as Charles Hadden Spurgeon concedes, “The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself.” Therefore, the call of a pastor is not to sit idly while the wolves feast upon the sheep of Christ. Rather, the pastor is “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12; italics mine). Or said differently (with biblical categories and language), pastor/elders must function amid their priest/king role in safeguarding the temple of God—the church (1 Cor. 3:16-17)—by training the congregation to take on their own priest/king mantle in “guarding the good deposit” (2 Tim. 1:14; cf. Gen. 2:15; Num. 3:6-7, 32, 38; 18:1-17).[6]


The work of an elder/pastor, then, is not subdued with passivity. The work of an elder/pastor is to ferociously love and care for the flock of Christ by skillfully combatting the erroneous ideologies of this world through faithfully preaching, teaching, and modeling the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That is, an elder/pastor must be gentle in his shepherding and sharp in his rebuke against ravenous wolves who seek to pounce upon the fold of Christ. The same hand that feeds the beloved flock is the same hand that mounts predatorial foes into submission who strive to steal the joy of the Gospel from the covenant community of saints.


The Best Defense is a Good Offense:


In a society that equates cultural Christianity to Ned Flanders, the church must inquire of elder to exhibit compassionate, Christ-like qualities along with a holy fierceness that strives to uphold truth for the sake of loving the King and His people. These two qualities—gentleness and strength—are not mutually exclusive nor are they contradictory in their function. Rather, these two spiritual traits find their origin in Christ Jesus Himself who is the lion and the lamb of our salvation (Jn. 1:29; Rev. 5:5). His humility (cf. Phil. 2:3-11) is the foreground to His incarnation and sacrificial offering for our salvation while His might (cf. Col. 1:18) is put on display through the resurrection in order that the church might stand upon solid ground. Therefore, an elder is to be an under-shepherd amid the great Shepherd Himself, Christ Jesus our Lord. Or as Bruce A. Ware asserts, “An under-shepherds, then, they stand in a relation to Christ in a manner even greater than that in which their own people stand to them. They must acknowledge that their role and all it involves is simply and solely to carry out the will of another, to advance the work of one greater.”[7] In saying that, we must model His character and reflect His strength as a Word centered community.


In an age where men have cowered from the sound and clear teaching of Scripture, may Christ—who builds His church—raise up men who will stand with gentleness in shepherding the flock of Christ while planting themselves through the power of His Spirit upon the strength and solid foundation of the Word of God. Or as Alexander Straunch rightly concedes, “Elders, then, are to be protectors, watchmen, defenders, and guardians of God’s people. In order to accomplish this, shepherd elders need to be spiritually alert and must be men of courage.”[8] Let the church not be misled nor twisted in their presumption of a faithful elder. He must be gentle and compassionate, yes, but he must also be fierce and dangerous in all the right ways. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

***footnotes***

[1] See Shawn D. Wright, “Baptists and a Plurality of Elders” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 249-281. [2] John Calvin, The Second Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians and the Epistles to Timothy, Titus and Philemon, trans. T. A. Smail (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1980), 226. [3] Thomas R. Schreiner, “Overseeing and Serving the Church in the Pastoral and General Epistles” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 91. [4] C. K. Barrett, The Second Epistle to the Corinthians (London: A&C Black, 1986), 252. [5] Ibid., 253. [6] See Leeman, Jonathan. Don’t Fire Your Church Members: The Case for Congregationalism. Nashville, TN: B&H Academic, 2016. See also Beale, G. K. The Temple and the Church’s Mission: A Biblical Theology of the Dwelling Place of God, NSBT (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2004), 29-80. [7] Bruce A. Ware, “Putting It All Together: A Theology of Church Leadership” in Shepherding God’s Flock: Biblical Leadership in the New Testament and Beyond, ed. Benjamin L. Merkle and Thomas R. Schreiner (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Ministry, 2014), 286. [8] Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call to Restore Biblical Church Leadership (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Rother Publishers, 2016), 19.

 

McYoung Y. Yang (MDiv, SBTS; ThM, MBTS) is the husband to Debbie and father to McCayden (14), McCoy (13), McColsen (11), and DeYoung (8). He is a Pastor of Preaching/Teaching at Covenant City Church in St. Paul, MN. Along with his ministerial duties, he is a homeschool dad. In addition, McYoung is a PhD candidate at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, MO. His ambition is to use his training as a means to serve the local church in living life through the Gospel lens.






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