Modern Ethics: 1 Timothy 3
Modern Ethics: 1 Timothy 3
The early church leaders were not silent on their expectations about the conduct of Christians or individuals who sought leadership offices within the church community. These expectations of the early church solidified the ethical norms that all Christians were expected to use as a framework by which to build their new lives as followers of Christ. Borrowing heavily from the Old Testament and Jewish custom, the early church created a foundation for morality that still guides almost every sect of Christianity today.
What is Ethics?
In order to discuss ethics, one must define what ethics are. Ethics are “a theory or system of moral values” (Ethic, n.d.). Values and morals can be distilled from what individuals consider as ethical or unethical behavior. Most all of the various sects of Christianity reflect a similar culture and culture is a reflection of their somewhat shared values (Hultman & Gellermann, 2002). Regardless of denomination, these values are demonstrated in a near universal ethic that still spreads across modern day Christendom. Although there are noted discrepancies in the uniformity of a universal Christian ethic, Christian sects are far more similar in their ethical behavior than non-Christian groups or cultures.
For leadership in the early church, Paul wrote to Timothy in order to guide him in his understanding of what moral and ethical qualifications one must abide by in order to obtain an office within the church. The values of New Testament Christians are displayed in Paul’s discussion of what qualifications a leader is required to possess in order to obtain the office of an overseer in the church community. Leaders must be individuals that model the way for those who follow (Kouzes & Posner, 2012). Paul seems to recognize this when he notes that an overseer must have a good reputation within and without the church.
The first point of interest in 1 Timothy chapter 3 is Paul’s use of the word overseer in the opening verse. “There is no suggestion that there was only one bishop in each church and certainly no suggestion that an overseer, as happened in the case of the later bishops, would supervise several churches” (Carson & et al., 1994). Rules can either be imposed form the inside or the outside (Wright, 2010). In order to maintain accountability, it makes sense that multiple overseers were in place at a local assembly in order to assist one another and act as an external check on unethical behavior.
Modern Christian leaders can learn from this example of New Testament leadership. Having authority without accountability can be devastating. Even in the secular world, leading without some form of checks and balances can allow one to begin to gravitate away from ethical behavior. Every Christian leader is a reflection of Christianity itself. Christian leaders need one another to help or rebuke each other when needed. Fedler (2006) suggests that since God holds us accountable for our actions that we should also monitor one another.
A second point of interest is found in verses 2 and 7. Both verses require a Christian leader to have a good reputation. The idea of a good reputation can vary widely depending on one’s culture. However, the basic formula for gaining a good reputation remains the same regardless; if an individual treats others ethically, they will have a decent reputation. Paul emphasizes that having the respect of the Christian community and the secular community is paramount if one is to obtain an office of leadership (Carson & et al., 1994). For early Church leaders, the default expectation was that the individual would have a good reputation both within and without the Christian community thereby avoiding bringing blame to the church and to Christ.
Reputation is everything in the modern world. Thanks to the invention of the internet, all of humanity is a next-door neighbor. The Internet has allowed the bonds of reputation to reach even farther than in times past and they are difficult to outrun. A bad reputation, such as a pedophile or con artist, is not something that can be hidden by moving to the next town, state, or country. It is integral for Christian leaders to guard their reputations well since they stand out to the world as a representation of not only the church, but of Christ. Social media can expose, promote, or destroy reputations faster than the main stream media ever could. As modern Christians and as leaders, it is important to do the right thing with consistency in order to lead unbelievers to salvation and believers in a deeper relationship with Christ.
Self-Control and Sober Mindedness
Christian leaders should be individuals of character. The Bible describes a person of character as being “sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable…” (E.S.V., 2002). A person of character is able to, with mastery, maneuver inside the social sphere with influence. Sober-minded and self-controlled deal with how the individual responds to situations. Christians should not act in the moment, but utilize reflection and deliberation as becomes a Christian leader. Leadership is a manifestation of the internal being of an individual (Cashman, 2008). A leader’s values and morals are attached to the style and type of leadership that takes place (ibid). Paul was, on some level, aware of this. Since church leaders often deal in matters of ultimate concern, namely salvation, having church leaders without self-control and the ability to handle situations properly and with great care would potentially cause great collateral damage with eternal consequence. Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that Christian leaders are especially aware of their responsibility to utilize self-control and sobriety in all matters.
Modern leaders should seek to be patient with answers and even handed in their responses. A leader who has a reputation for oscillating on direction will repel followers and cause confusion. Furthermore, a leader who lacks self-control will often abuse followers, taking advantage of trust and exploiting the weak. A lack of self-control leads to unethical decisions and situations. The Christian value of protecting the weak and doing what is right is often overlooked by individuals who lack self-control.
Hospitable, Able to Teach
The latter part of 1 Tim. 3 verse 2 states that those aspiring to be overseers should be “hospitable, able to teach…” (E.S.V., 2002). Northouse (2015) discussed the need to teach followers how to change. Part of teaching people involves taking care of them. Paul required early Christian leaders be ready to take care of others and have the technical ability to effectively communicate the Gospel. Early Christians who were not hospitable were in danger of alienating both followers and friends. Leaders that exhibit care for followers is vital for creating a strong culture within a church community.
Ethics, values, and morality come together in order to build culture (Schein, 2010). For a Christian leader to fulfill his or her role, they must be able to teach these values to new members. As modern leaders, if we are not able to translate organizational values to new members, culture erosion or transformation could take place. Paul’s requirement for leaders to be able to teach was integral to the long-term growth and stamina of Christianity. No matter what skills an individual may have, if they lack the ability to teach followers, the organization will be hindered in the long run. A great example of this can be seen in the rise and fall of Napoleon. Although a strategic and tactical genius, his inability to train competent commanders and rely on them in battle helped lead to his eventual downfall (Roberts, 2014).
Paul required that early Christian leaders abstain from becoming intoxicated. While alcohol was permitted in the early church, the act of becoming drunk was looked down upon. Several times in the New Testament, including both Timothy and Titus, Paul specifically emphasizes that leaders should not be involved in drunkenness. When intoxicated, the ability to make sound judgment is impaired, and the margin for error in making sound decisions is drastically increased (Davis, George, & Norris, 2004). This is not only damaging to the individual but also the reputation of the leader is compromised with a lack of self-control that can negatively affect both followers and onlookers outside of the church community. Alcoholism is almost always destructive to the individual and those close to the alcoholic. Both sound judgment and clarity are lost in the mists of intoxication.
The modern leader should look hard at abstaining from drunkenness. In the secular world, alcohol is a common tool employed to assist people in having a good time. In the business world, alcohol is used to help gain consent from clients who may not be fully persuaded. Reputations can be destroyed quickly without full awareness of the magnitude of the consequences when an individual is intoxicated. Leaders should be able to model the way for followers. While intoxicated, modeling the way can become extremely difficult.
Money and Corruption
Lessig (2013) described institutional corruption as “manifest when there is a systemic and strategic influence which is legal, or even currently ethical, that undermines the institution’s effectiveness by diverting it from its purpose or weakening its ability to achieve its purpose…” (p.553). Money is one of the fastest corruption agents known to man. Paul states in 1 Tim. 6:10 that the “love of money is the root of all evil”. Having an excess of money is great, but being driven by and absorbed with money leads to many vices. If Paul could keep lovers of money away from church leadership, the chances of corruption were drastically diminished.
The modern political system in the United States is a great example of what happens when secular leaders have a love for money that supersedes care of followers. Laws are passed based upon the highest bidder with little regard to the constituents that the elected officials are supposed to represent. A leader who has a love for money will compromise ethically on organizational values for the right price.
Paul gave several qualifications in 1 Tim. 3 concerning the family of the leader. Specifically, he required one wife and godly, obedient children. Paul, in 1 Tim. 5:8, firmly states that one should take care of and provide for one’s own family first. Any Christian leader should be able to set their family as a model for others to follow. This is not to say that bad things cannot happen, but rather that the home operates in a godly fashion. When disaster strikes or family members turn away from the Gospel, a good Christian leader will handle the situation in a godly fashion, therefore providing a great example for others to follow. This qualification can be tough, especially in modern society.
Having a family to depend on is an exceptional boon to any leader. By taking Paul’s advice, a leader should make sure the needs of their family are taken care of first. When the business and secular world turns its back, a strong family should be there to help. Friedman (2007) discusses at length the dangers of a dysfunctional family. Although a family may not always get along, the family unit can be strong and provide support for each member when the need arises (ibid). Having a strong sense of self and the ability to make sound decisions is a critical part in keeping a family strong and healthy (ibid). Paul understood how integral a family could be to the success and failure of any leader and therefore included qualifications specific to family in his letter to Timothy.
“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil” (E.S.V., 2002). Having a new convert attempting to give spiritual advice to another new convert is a recipe for disaster. Inexperience in leadership is a danger, even for older individuals. A leader needs to understand the culture, values, and norms before he or she can truly be effective (Schein, 2010). Without having seasoned leaders teaching followers Christian disciplines, chaos and instability would reign.
A good lesson for modern leaders to take from this verse is to be prepared. Modern leaders will often be shuffled around from place to place and position to position. A great general manager may soon be placed in charge of production, or a great CTO might be moved to the position of CEO. These changes in position bring a new set of dynamics into view. If a leader is overconfident, he or she may not recognize the change in dynamics and make foolish mistakes. Leaders should always take time to examine the lay of the land before engaging in any type of change. When transitioning to a new business or leadership role, a wise leader will always figure out the culture, values, and social dynamics in order to ensure the smoothest transition possible.
Paul and the other Apostles were vocal about their expectations for the leadership of the New Testament church. The value requirements set forth in 1 Tim. 3 for overseers reflected the cultural values and norms of the early church. These norms remain the Biblical model of ethical Christian leadership today. The modern leader can learn valuable lessons from examining the requirements of church offices and reap benefits from adhering to the values reflected within them. While time and eras have past, Paul’s instruction to Timothy for ethical Christian leaders remains the standard by which Christian character is judged. Though they are hundreds of years old, the instructions of Paul are still applicable to our modern era and will continue to provide a framework of modern ethics for years to come.
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