Weighed in the World’s Scales

Let us pray that God would grant our elders the wisdom and character to be well thought of by outsiders for the sake of the gospel.

The Bible teaches us that a good reputation is proof of a life conducted wisely. Proverbs 13:15 points out that “good sense wins favor,” and Proverbs 3:3–4 says: “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you. . . . So you will find favor and good success in the sight of God and man.” Commenting on these proverbs, Bruce Waltke summarizes their teaching: “A good name is the outward expression of the person’s inner wisdom.” Even non-Christian outsiders should be able to perceive the inner wisdom at work in the life of a man of God who is qualified to serve as elder.


J.N.D. Kelly has observed that the world often judges the church by the character and conduct of the clergy. In 1 Timothy 3:1–7, Paul gives instructions regarding the essential characteristics required for a man to hold the office of elder. Paul highlights the importance of these qualifications by beginning and ending his list with the same Greek verb meaning “it is necessary” (1 Tim. 3:2, 7). All of the attributes listed in verses 2–7 are absolute essentials for elders.

Paul also begins and ends his list by focusing on reputation. Verse 2 instructs Timothy to look for a man who is “above reproach,” and verse 7 returns to this theme by requiring that an elder candidate be “well thought of by outsiders.” The article will focus on this last qualification given in 1 Timothy 3:7.

The Presence of a Good Reputation

Last but not least on the Holy Spirit’s list of qualifications is that an elder must be “well thought of by outsiders.” By “outsiders,” Paul means those who are not members of the covenant community. Many commentators have pointed out that we might initially be surprised to see such a high value placed on the opinions held by those outside the church, those who are by definition unbelieving people who do not follow Christ as Lord. However, the Scriptures often point out the importance of the public face Christians show to an unbelieving world.

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