Free Reformed Church of Kelmscott
NOT MATURITY IN YEARS BUT MATURITY IN FAITH IS CRITICAL FOR LEADERSHIP.
I Timothy 3:1-13
I Timothy 4:11-16
I Timothy 5:17-20
Singing: (Psalms and Hymns are from the "Book of Praise"
Anglo Genevan Psalter)
Psalm 20:3,4 -ordination
Beloved Congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ!
This morning we may witness the ordination of five brothers to the offices of elder and deacon in this church. For the occasion, I have chosen for our attention a passage from the book of Ecclesiastes, a passage contrasting "a child" as king with "the son of nobles" as king. I have chosen this passage on purpose: our times want change, want new things, and so want leadership from the young. One hears it from various sides: the opinions and thoughts of the youth are valued. So: what do the Scriptures say about a child as king, or elder for that matter? Have we done well in electing and appointing the brothers before us?
I summarise the sermon with this theme:
NOT MATURITY IN YEARS BUT MATURITY IN FAITH IS CRITICAL FOR LEADERSHIP.
1. The picture laid before us in our text is of a land ruled by a king. Automatically our thoughts go to such people as David and Solomon of old, go to such leaders of today as President Clinton and Mr Howard. We should not, however, think only of political leaders as such, be they kings or presidents or prime ministers. What the text says about the land being blessed or cursed on account of the type of ruler it has is true also of the family being blessed or not on account of the type of father there is in the house, is true also of the church being blessed or not on account of the type of officebearer it receives. I take the liberty this morning, then, to speak not of Mr Howard and Mr Court, but to speak rather of the officebearers in the church and the fathers in the homes.
We’re told in our text that a king can be a source of "woe" to a land or a source of blessing. We do not use the word "woe" any more in our daily speaking, and yet I trust we know what it means. When the ark of God’s covenant was carried into the camp of the Israelites in the days of Eli the priest, the Philistine enemies –we read– were filled with fear and said:
"Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of this mighty God? This is the God who struck the Egyptians with the plagues..." (I Sam 4:7f).
"Woe to us": here is despair, here is anguish, here is fear of impending disaster. The prophet Isaiah uses the word "woe" in a similar way. Says he:
"Woe to the wicked! It shall be ill with him..." (Is 3:11).
Woe: that’s not blessing, it’s not contentment; woe is rather deepest anguish, it’s immense hurt, there’s great tribulation in the air. Such, says the Lord in our text, is what happens to a land when its king is a child. There’s danger, there’s destruction, there’s despair. And I add: such is what happens to a church when its officebearers are but children, and such is what happens in our families when the parents are but children....
If such, then, is what happens when a child is king, what are we to understand by the word "child"? In the context of this text, our thoughts undoubtedly go directly to a king in his 20’s or 30’s, to an officebearer perchance of the same age, to a father who is scarcely out of his teenage years, and so we understand the author of Ecclesiastes to predict doom and gloom for the land, the church, the family whose king or elder or father is but a scarce 20 years old.
As it turns out, though, beloved, the word translated in our text as "child" has a wide range of meanings in Scripture. The baby which Moses’ mother put in the basket is described by the same word as appears in our text: child (Ex 2:6). David speaks of the upstart rebel Absalom as a "child" – same word (II Sam 14:21: 18:5). In the dream in which the Lord asked young king Solomon what he wanted, Solomon described himself as "a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in" – same word again as in our text (I Kings 3:7). King Rehoboam was 41 years old when he became king, and yet the word of our text is applied to him (II Chron 13:7). Somewhere, then, we’re wrong when the word "child" in our text automatically makes us think of a very young king.
On top of that, it’s simply not true that a 20 year old youth as king necessarily means woe to a land. Joash became king of Judah at age 7 (II K 11:21), and Scriptures say of him that he
"did what was right in the sight of the Lord all the days in which Jehoiada the priest instructed him" (II K 12:2).
Josiah became king when he was 8 years old and, say the Scriptures,
"in the eighth year of his reign, while he was still young, [sixteen, in fact] he began to seek the God of his father David" (II Chron 34:3).
Solomon was a "child" when he began his reign, possibly around 20 years old, and his first years as king were a distinct blessing for Israel. It wasn’t until he became old and had much experience under his belt that his reign became a burden for the land. No, youthful kings are not necessarily a cause for despair to a nation. The author of Ecclesiastes himself knows this fact too. Says this author in 4:13:
"Better is a poor and wise youth
Than an old and foolish king who will be admonished no more."
With regard to officebearers in the church, Scripture also gives us examples of young brothers who yet were not a source of woe to those under their charge. Jesus was 30 years old when He began His ministry. Timothy was in his 30’s at the most when he received his office in Ephesus.
So we for our part, beloved, need to do away with the notion that someone who is young cannot be a good king, cannot be a good officebearer or –for that matter– a good parent. The fact that the word translated as "child" in our text has such a wide range of meanings, plus the fact that there are in Scripture examples of youths being good kings in Israel, must lead to the conclusion that age is not the criterion of leadership. That our society, then, wants to give, in decision making processes, more attention to what youth think is not in itself necessarily wrong. For: "better is a poor and wise youth Than an old and foolish king...."
But why, then, does our text utter a "woe" for the land when the king is a child, be it a child like David considered Absalom to be or a child as Solomon considered himself to be or a child as the writer of Scripture describes the 41 year old Rehoboam to be? That, beloved, is because the word "child" here does not refer to the physical age of the person in question; it refers rather to the spiritual maturity of the person. Neither Absalom nor Rehoboam were spiritually mature, and that’s why they are described with that word translated in our text as "child". Solomon used the word for himself in that dream, and then went on to ask the Lord for the wisdom needed to rule God’s people, and God promised to give it. The point of our text, then, is not that a land need despair when its king is young; a land shall rather despair when its king is spiritually immature. Consider what it would have been like in Israel with Absalom as king: the man was not mature in his relation with the Lord God and so did not see the kingship in Israel as a means to help the people serve God; he was rather busy with himself, saw the kingship as a means to have others wait on him. And recall what happened in Israel when Rehoboam insisted on the people paying exorbitant taxes to feather royalty; the nation broke in two. Indeed, "Woe to you, O land, when your king is a child" in faith. And we need but little imagination to understand what would happen in church and in our homes if officebearers and parents were spiritually immature. "Woe" indeed....
That the reference of our text actually refers to spiritual immaturity is pointed up by what is written in the second half of vs 16. The princes of the land are pictured as feasting in the morning. Princes, we understand, are the people of influence who move around the palace, whose wages are paid from the royal treasury. These princes have a job to do; they’re paid from the royal treasury because they are meant to be busy assisting the king in governing the land. But if in the morning already these princes are busy partying, they’re certainly producing but little in the remainder of the day; morning is the time for work (cf Jer 21:12). These princes, then, become parasites on the land; the people labour to feed the bellies of the nation’s fat cats. Yet how is it possible for the princes to be partying in the morning already? That can only be when the king himself hasn’t the backbone to tell them to work, it can only be when the king is not driven by the conviction that his office is given him by God for the good of the people, it can only be when the king himself also does not mind using his position to live it up. But when there is in the heart of the king a Scriptural understanding of his task as king, when there is a love for the Lord and so also a love for the well-being of the people of the Lord, he will certainly not allow his princes to party in the morning. In a word: only a king who does not understand the nature of the office God laid on him will allow his princes to party during that time of day when one is meant to be at work.
Now we can understand too why having such a king means deep trouble, "woe", to the land. When the machinery of government grinds to a halt because cabinet ministers are whooping it up in the palace bar at 10 o’clock in the morning, there is no leadership for the people and there’s nobody labouring to halt decay from spreading in the land. Here vs 18 is instructive. The author of Ecclesiastes tells us that a building decays because of laziness, and through idleness the roof begins to leak. It’s imagery we can relate to well. Set a wooden building in a paddock and ignore it, and in short time the white ants will be through it. The point is that decay happens by itself; decay does not need to be helped along, decay needs rather to be hindered. That’s true in the infrastructures of government too; unless officials are on top of their job, the organisation of a nation will quickly decay by itself. The same is true in the church and in our families; if officebearers and parents are not on their job, are instead out partying, things automatically break down and they do so rapidly. Chaos. Destruction.
At this point I wish to address my fellow officebearers, both those who are being ordained today and those already ordained. You are not children in the faith, brothers; the Lord has granted to you maturity. So the qualifications of I Tim 3 could be found in you. Then it’s true that not all of us are aged and grey. So the words we read from I Tim 4 apply:
"Let no one despise your youth, but be an example to the believers in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (vs 12).
Being such an example is possible only for the spiritually mature, regardless of age. The position you receive from the Lord as officebearers in His church –kings, if you will– can be abused; it’s quite possible to use the position for personal honour, quite tempting too to probe into people’s lives at home visits to build your own ego instead of to help the sheep. But let it be impressed on you, then, my brothers, that such an approach to the office indicates spiritual immaturity, and to carry out your office with yourself in mind leads the congregation invariably to despair. Paul said to Timothy that the officebearer had to be blameless, not given to wine, not greedy, must rule his own house well (I Tim 3), and the whole point of the apostle is that the officebearer must not be a child, must not be spiritually immature. The princes of Eccl 10:16 and the king also were spiritually immature, and so used their position over the people for themselves, their own honour, their own pleasure, and the nation was led to despair as a result. Paul warns Timothy that such folk may not become officebearers in the church of God for whom Christ died. What the church needs is not boys in the faith, not men who love to party and love to hear themselves talk, not men who love to be patted on the back and have their egos built. When such persons become officebearers, woe to that church! For: "Because of laziness the building decays."
2. What, then, is required of officebearers? Or heads of families and nations, for that matter? That’s our second point: the man mature in faith leads a people to happiness.
The author of Ecclesiastes had in vs 16 expressed woe on the land when its king was a child. In vs 17 he goes on to express when a land is blessed. The word "woe", we had said earlier, denotes disaster, despair. The word "blessing" in vs 17 describes its opposite. Here is a reference to happiness, to bliss. Dt 33 describes Israel’s condition as a result of the fact that the Lord is Israel’s king. Says the passage: "Happy" (and there’s the same word as in our text),
"Happy are you, O Israel!
Who is like you, a people saved by the Lord...?" (vs 29).
Here is bliss, ease of life, prosperity; enemies shall submit to Israel and Israel be exalted. Similarly, the blessings Israel enjoyed as a result of Solomon’s wise and godly leadership are described by the queen of Sheba with the same word as appears in our text:
"Happy are your men and happy are these your servants, who stand continually before you and hear your wisdom!" (I K 10:8).
The word "blessed" in our text, then, describes a condition of peace, contentment, happiness.
How can a land receive such happiness? Says Eccl 10: "when your king is the son of nobles." Nobles: here is a reference to Israel’s ruling class, the well-bred of the land. This was the group of people who were accustomed to giving instructions, who knew how to use power. A king arising from such a circle could ensure that his princes partied at the proper time –after their work was done– partied not for the sake of partying, but rather to gain new strength for further work.
Yet we are not to think strictly of the physical son of a physical nobleman here. Just as much as the "child" of vs 16 was a reference to the spiritually immature, so the "son of nobles" in vs 17 is a reference to the noble in spirit. Here I refer to what Moses’ father-in-law advised Moses about how to govern the people of Israel; said he:
"...select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens" (Ex 18:21).
Behold there what "sons of nobles" are. They’re "able men", "such as fear God", they’re "men of truth, hating covetousness." So we read too of king David, that God brought this simple shepherd "from following the ewes" –he wasn’t a full-blooded nobleman– and yet
"he shepherded [Israel] according to the integrity of his heart,
And guided them by the skillfulness of his hands" (Ps 78:71f).
There’s the spirit of the true noblemen, the ability to lead for the benefit of the people, a man in every sense of the word, mature in the Lord. Such a one, says the author of Ecclesiastes, brings happiness to a land.
And what the nature of that happiness is? Vs 19: there’s time for feasting and wine; "all work and no play makes Johnny a dull"…official, laughter and merriment are so good. Such a king receives from the Lord the money and the means to allow his princes "to feast at the proper time – for strength and not for drunkenness", for renewing their energy to continue work.
What, then, is required from officebearers in the church? What kind of men must fathers in the home be? For the congregation to be happy and content, for our families to be cheery and joyful in the Lord, the officebearers and the parents are to be spiritual nobles, men strong in the Lord. As far as the office in the church is concerned, these are the men of I Tim 3, blameless, not given to partying, not looking out for the self, ruling one’s own house well as fellow children of one God. These are the men who know that by nature decay eats away at the congregation of the Lord, destroys covenant families, and who in love for the Lord and His saving work in Jesus Christ eagerly use all their gifts and energies for the benefit of the congregation, the benefit of the family. The nobles in the faith are not like the child in the faith; the child seeks what he can get out of it for himself, the noble seeks what he can give of himself for the other.
Here, of course, the example of the Noble Man as king is our Saviour Jesus Christ. In the church of all ages God Almighty gave to Jesus a unique office; "He was ordained by God the Father and anointed with the Holy Spirit, to be" Prophet, Priest and King (LD 12). In these offices Jesus –though only a young 30 years old when He received the task– showed Himself to be no child but rather a noble in the faith; He did not use His office to build His own ego and allow His princes to party in the morning. Satan offered him the world if He’d only bow the knee once to the devil, but Jesus –man in the faith that He was– resisted the temptation to take the easy way. The scribes and Pharisees, leaders of the church, sought to frighten Him by threats of death, but Jesus –man in the faith that He was– refused to be intimidated; He preached on, "remained blameless, temperate, soberminded, of good behaviour, hospitable, able to teach, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous..." (I Tim 3:2f). Despite His 30 years, He "let no one despise His youth," but to old and young alike He consistently gave "an example...in word, in conduct, in love, in spirit, in faith, in purity" (I Tim 4:12). He remained busy with the Word of God, thinking on God’s revelation, growing in understanding of what God wanted of Him (I Tim 4:13ff).
And when the day came that Jesus had to give up His life for the sake of the sheep, He did not hesitate to do so; Jesus went to the cross without complaint, did not resist carrying out the office laid upon Him despite the enormous cost involved. He let Himself be arrested, mocked, whipped, crucified, handed over to Satan –why?– so that His people might be blessed, happy, reconciled to God with their sins washed away. Behold there, brothers officebearers, the example of what it means to be noble in the faith, and what the blessed results are for the people in your care. And behold there, fathers and mothers in the congregation, the example of what it means to be noble in the faith in your office as parents, and what the blessed results are for the family. The king, any leader in society or church or home, who treats his office as a means to stroke his own ego is a disaster to his land; the king, any leader in society or church or home, who treats his office as Christ treated His is a source of blessing and happiness for that land, that church, that family.
But who, who is capable of carrying out any office in this way? To rule as Christ ruled, so self-less-ly, so full of love for God and the neighbour that "self" disappeared totally into the background: who of the officebearers and who of the parents in our midst is able?? We know: in this life not one of us is able. Far, far too often we are but children in the way we govern our families, but children in the way we carry out our office in the church.... As parents we give our children so many occasions to speak ill of us, and as officebearers we give the congregation so many opportunities too to consider us mavericks. The effects of sin remain so real....
What says the Lord to the people of a nation about the mistakes of the king? Eccl 10:20: whether the king be a child or the son of a noble, spiritually immature or a giant in the faith, the people of the land are "not [to] curse the king, even in [their] thoughts," for a little bird may somehow carry your ill feelings to the palace and the king find out.... Speak ill of parents or officebearers behind their back? Eccl 10 says No. And Paul to Timothy repeats it:
"Do not receive an accusation against an elder except from two or three witnesses" (I Tim 5:19).
Officebearers and parents remain sinners, it’s true, just like the kings of Israel in days of old. But that’s no reason, congregation, to curse the king or the officebearer or the parent in your thoughts, nor is there reason to speak evil of them in the privacy of your bedroom. Room for one thing only there is, and that’s in the face of sin to lodge a proper complaint at the proper address. Meanwhile, the attitude God requires from us toward those whom He sets over us in Jesus Christ is that we receive them as leaders given to us by God Himself. If He is sovereignly pleased to use imperfect, sinful men –be they in your opinion children in the faith or nobles in the faith– who are you to complain? No, beloved, God’s way is good and right.
What kind of leaders do we want in the congregation? On the basis of what the Lord our God tells us in Eccl 10, it’s clear that what we want is men full of the Holy Spirit, men mature in the faith. As it is, the brothers you see before you are the men the Lord in wisdom has been pleased to give. They have a task now, the responsibility to be men in the faith for the benefit of the congregation. And you, beloved, have a task too: pray for these men, each of them, that they may be the men in the faith the congregation needs. Amen.