In the late 1990s Enron was the darling of Wall Street. The story of Enron shows a company that reached dramatic heights only to see it all come tumbling down in a dizzying fall in December of 2001.
Its shares plummeted from $90.75 to .26 cents a share. The company’s collapse affected thousands of employees and shook Wall Street to its core.
Then there’s Bernie Madoff—he was a Wall street stockbroker who used a “Ponzi Scheme” to perpetrate the most extensive financial fraud in American history. Investors lost billions of dollars.
In 2016 Fortune Magazine published an article entitled The World’s 19 Most Disappointing Leaders highlighting the avalanche of mishandled and questionable decisions among CEOs and politicians.
In the years sense then, I would imagine you could include hundreds more leaders.
But many times, this is so far above our lives—we read about it in the news—but because we’re so distant from it, we (at least me at times) fail to truly grasp the impact of such leaders and their lack of character.
A lot of times, it’s not until we move closer to the circles of influence most immediate to our lives, that we see and feel the impact of people lacking character.
When I was in the Air Force, we had this big event called Knuckle Busters. Once a year, all the maintainers would vote for someone who best epitomized an Aircraft Maintainer. We were to pick the individual by using the “whole person concept.” So not just how well they did their job, but how well they represented the Air Force core values—integrity first, service before self, excellence in all we do.
One year I was so disappointed in the maintainer selected. Oh, he was a good mechanic, I’ll give you that, but was he one I would want to hold up as epitomizing an Aircraft Maintainer? Did he represent himself as one who lived the core values as a way of life? No, not even close.
In fact, months earlier, he used his job as a convenient way out of his marriage and other responsibilities. As he was being cheered and celebrated, all Patty and I could think of was the months prior when his wife was in our living room weeping because he had left her and his child.
I didn’t see someone of high character—I saw someone who was out for themselves, someone who would take the easy self-serving road.
Then there are the preachers who fail in public ways—they have an affair, or leave their families, embezzle large sums of money.… These types of falls always seem to make the headlines because they show a complete lack of character.
When it comes to character, it’s one thing to look at others, but what about looking back at ourselves? Are we willing to look at our own character honestly and humbly? How would the circle of people closest to us evaluate our character? That’s a sobering question!
I started with these examples to get you thinking about character and the importance of it in our lives. I used these examples to show what can happen when there’s a disconnect from a moral grounding.… For the believer—that grounding is found in the Gospel.
For the church—especially church leadership—there can be no compromise in the area of character. Character matters. Remember when Jesus was calling out the hypocrisy of the pharisees? In Matthew 23 seven different times he would say, “Woe to you Pharisees…”
He would go on to call them hypocrites… “You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence … First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.” His point was clear—our inner lives determine our outward behavior.
Character can be described as mental or moral qualities or attributes that are distinctive to an individual.
Today we are in 1 Timothy Chapter 3… Paul is writing to Timothy about the leadership of the church and the importance of leaders aligning their lives with godly character and we will see that it is the fundamental qualification for church leaders.
My main point today (what I hope you’ll take away from our time) is that Godly character matters. We can’t compromise. It matters in church leadership, in our homes, and in our personal lives.
Chapter 3 is a continuation of chapters 1 and 2. Remember Paul has been giving instruction on order within the church… He’s given instructions for men and women, spiritual leadership, and now he turns his attention to the character of those who qualify to be appointed leaders in the church.
Paul is in the latter part of his ministry…. He knows he doesn’t have long, so it’s important that Timothy, his protégé, dig in and work hard to get things right.
Before we get into our passage, I want to start with verses 14 and 15… We’ll will unpack them a bit more later, but I want you to hear this now because in it, we hear Paul’s own reason for writing…
“14 I write these things to you, hoping to come to you soon. 15 But if I should be delayed, I have written so that you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God…”
So, the purpose of Paul’s instructions on order, worship, and leadership is to make clear the high calling we have as believers and members of the church, living as individuals and as a group, to the glory of God.
Paul knew this didn’t just happen on its own; it would require leaders with high character.
Let’s jump into the chapter…
Text: 1 Timothy 3
Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.
Today overseer is associated with the term pastor… According to Paul this is a noble task involving guiding, leading, equipping, teaching, and serving the church… Pastors are to guide in matters of the spirit. It’s a weighty responsibility, it’s no wonder the qualifications were high.
It’s a responsibility that should give one pause… the phrase “Here’s a trustworthy saying” was used as an attention getter. It’s like Paul saying “I want you to pay attention–what I’m about to say is important: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task!”
And it works! Every time I read this passage it causes me to pause and consider what it is I’m called to do. And when I say it gives me pause, don’t hear me saying it’s causing me to reconsider what I’m doing, like I should hang it up and try something different… far from it! It causes me to pause and think about leaning in. Terry and I remind each other as we get older that we are not going to coast, but sprint to the end!
Early on I remember Terry talking with me about ministry and my role as a pastor, he said, “Jim, you’re taking care of souls.” Honestly, that phrase has stuck with me… I felt the weight of it then, and even now as I say it this morning, I still feel the weight of it. It’s not the kind of weight that makes me want to quit… it’s just the opposite. It makes me want to lean in even more. I know that the bar has been raised high, and I want it raised high. I want to live for God’s glory and renown! It’s an inspiring phrase for me.
2 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
This is a lot of do’s and don’ts. In fact, there are 15 different character traits.
I think it’s helpful for us not to read these verses as a definitive list…it’s not a comprehensive statement.
Remember Paul and Timothy had spent a decade or more together… He would have already known a great deal of Paul’s expectations. Paul’s simply reminding Timothy of what not to overlook.
The list points to a quality and depth of godliness that are indispensable for a pastor. This is what Paul wants to see replicated in Ephesus and beyond.
So let’s look at a few characteristics that Paul list. We’re not going to hit all of them, we just want to get the flavor of what Paul is telling Timothy.
First is his reputation—”above reproach” has to do with one’s reputation.
How does he act? is he a jerk? Does he fly off the handle? Does he talk out of both sides of his mouth? Or, when people run into him, do they say, “Man that’s a good guy.” “He’s steady, he doesn’t get riled up.” “He cares about what’s going on in my life.” This is all observable conduct. Do his actions line up with his words?
Let me be clear: Paul’s not suggesting perfection here… He’s talking about a person who deals quickly with sin between himself and God and others. He carries himself in a way that what you see is what you get. He’s not living a 2-story life, and when he realizes he’s heading that way, he’s quick to take action to move back to a single-story life.
When Patty and I first moved to Wichita we visited a church that we ended up not going to. There was just something that wasn’t right about it.
And man, I’m so grateful. Several months after we had attended the church, the pastor was arrested for laundering drug money! I couldn’t believe it, I was shocked! This man presented himself one way, but in reality, he was completely 180 degrees out from what was presented. I truly believe the Lord protected us and kept us from going to that church.
If a pastor is married, he’s to be faithful to his wife—literally, he must be a one-woman man! There are no other women in this life. He’s totally faithful.
I read where Winston Churchill was once asked, “If you could not be who you are, who would you like to be?” he thought about the question, and then he rose and stated, “If I could not be who I am, I would most like to be?”—and here he paused to take his wife’s hand—“Lady Churchill’s second husband.”
Churchill definitely had his vices, but when it came to the devotion he had for his wife, he set the pace.
Paul wants Timothy to affirm the pastor whose relationship with God is such that his commitment to his wife reflects the love and fidelity that grace enables. Paul probably has in mind a candidate who was showing signs of loving his wife like Christ loved the church (Eph 5:25).
Other character traits listed speak to his self-mastery—sober minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable—these characteristics are important Christian virtues. All of these are equally important.
Then in verse seven, Paul brings up reputation again…
7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
“A good reputation” is literally a beautiful witness—he must have a beautiful witness with outsiders.
He’s to be an ambassador for the church and for Christ, so he can have a good reputation with outsiders… Like Jesus, he is to increase in wisdom and “in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52).
Sometimes a pastor can get so busy and involved in the work of ministry that they close off opportunities to people outside the church…this can’t happen.
We must remember that we are always creating a reputation for ourselves. Since that’s true, we should make it our ambition to lead a quiet life… mind our own business and work with our hands… so that our daily lives may win the respect of outsiders.
These seven verses describe the challenges for a person who wants to pastor a church. And for the pastor who’s already shepherding a flock, it’s a reminder of their need for ongoing spiritual development in Godly character.
Now Paul turns to what a deacon should be in verses 8-13
8 In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. 9 They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.
11 In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.
12 A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. 13 Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.
The word deacon in the New Testament means “servant” or “attendant,” one who ministers to and cares for others. This word is generally translated “servant,” except in the few places where it specifically refers to the office of deacon.
Remember when the Disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God?
Jesus told them, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant (deacon) of all” (Mark 9:35). Pastors, deacons, and all who serve the church should model this attitude and lifestyle.
When you look at the characteristics of a deacon, it’s interesting how similar it is to the overseer…
The only distinction is that deacons are not required to teach.
Remember, this is not an all-inclusive list… just do these things and it’s all good. No. It would be better to understand these character traits as God’s strong views about what kind of people he wants to represent and lead the church. Those who desire to lead in the church, and those responsible for enlisting leaders, should follow these qualifications.
God values godly character, and it’s to be valued by all his followers. All of the qualifications require the same depth of character… That’s because character matters.
Now we’ve come back to verses 14 and 15…
14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
Paul’s talking about the church… the household of God… the family of God. He wants Timothy to teach people to know how they are to conduct themselves…he wants him to get this right.
It makes me think of my dad telling me, “Boy, you’re a Lewis. You represent the Lewis name when you leave this house. Do you understand me?” You bet I understood him… He was telling me my actions matter, and they reflect on the whole family. I think Paul is doing the same thing here… These three descriptive phrases—the church of the living God, the pillar, the foundation of truth—together make a compelling picture.
As the church, we are family (a “household”) made up of all kinds of personalities, and together we are to love our brothers and sisters who share the same inheritance.
We are “the church [congregation] of the living God.” Let that sink in… We come together as multiple temples of the living God, alive in a dynamic community.
And as the church, we are “the pillar and foundation of truth.” And the truth of God’s Word is the bedrock, mortar, and bricks of our lives.
Paul wants the people of God to live out what they are in Christ. So that means church leaders are to model godly character so that others can go and model it to others, and so on. You see, the cost is too great if you don’t. You can’t be passive.
Now we come to our final verse… it’s one of my favorites.
It’s a conclusion to all Paul has written up to this point.
16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:
He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory. 
Paul is ending with this crescendo of truth to drive his point home. I picture him smiling as he writes because he knows what’s coming next in the mind of the reader as they think about godly character… “Yeah, that’s all good, but I don’t think I have what it takes to make this a reality in my life, Paul.”
Paul’s answer is, “You’re right. You don’t have what it takes on your own! But you’re not left without hope either. Here’s the good news! The mystery of godliness is Christ himself, for it’s only in him that true godliness springs!”
It’s the secret by which genuine godliness is produced. Godliness springs from the knowledge of the incarnation, death, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ.… and when we abide in him, godliness flows because of God’s glorious riches… which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Jesus makes godliness possible.
You build character in community, living open and honest lives… Character development isn’t only a private matter. We grow in Christlikeness together in the household of God.
Godly character matters! Leaders within the church are to be models in character, family life, and relationships. They’re to model these traits for a purpose—leading others to grow in their relationship with Christ as they follow their example.
Maybe you think this passage doesn’t apply to me, I’m not a pastor, and I don’t desire to be one. And I say, that’s okey, not everyone is called to be a pastor. But we are all are called to live with godly character.
These character traits don’t just apply to the leader—they’re for all believers because we all glorify Christ. All of us should make it our ambition to live these traits out ever-increasingly. We are all called to grow in Christlikeness. Don’t compromise on this! Tap into Christ’s power and see how it can transform your character to look more like Christ every day! Remember—it’s “direction,” not “perfection.” Every one of us needs to grow in this.
Maybe you’re at a place where this is hard for you right now. Your character has not lived up to the faith you profess. The morning’s intention wasn’t to beat you up but to build you up. You don’t have to live that way. You can change that right now by confessing it to God. Remember, he is faithful to forgive us our trespasses and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Confession is a turning away from and a turning to…You can decide to make it your ambition to abide in Christ. Connect with him… let him be the source of your life. Depend on him. Let the sap of his grace flow through you and grow you into his likeness. Determine to walk faithfully with Jesus.