1 Timothy 3:4-5 says of those called to the office of ruling elder in the church, “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?” (ESV). There are many qualities listed by Paul in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 that are requisite for a man who would be an elder. Many of those qualities can be summarized under the heading of “spiritual maturity.” An elder is to be able to teach (or be teachable) as well as one who is dignified and respected in the community. In addition, he should have an interest in ministry to people in the context of the church (1 Peter 5). The thread that holds it all together is having a mature and lively faith in Christ. One of the clearest signs that a man has the proper temperament, wisdom, and faith is how he operates in his home if he has a family.
Paul says that he must manage his own household well. The word translated “manage” can also be translated “rule” as it is rendered in the Authorized Version. The term “rule” does not adequately capture the meaning Paul intends in our current culture. Most of us do not live under a monarchy and our concept of a ruler carries far too much baggage with it. Any man seeking to impose his “rule” at home is not likely to be fostering the kind of healthy flourishing intended by Paul. “Ruling well” does not mean that a man is to exert his dominance in the home. The goal is that his children are obedient and properly respectful. The NAS version says that his children are “under control with all dignity.”
The point seems to be that the home is characterized by a proper order built on trust and respect. In a tyranny it is possible to control people's outward behavior without having their hearts. This is most certainly NOT what Paul is encouraging here. What Paul wants is men who have shown that they know how to lead others. Those under their authority should be thriving and growing in their love for God and there should be a sense of peace in the home. For this reason the more modern translations use the word “manage” or “lead” instead of “rule” in this passage. This is a helpful concept for us. While we must not reduce the role of mature Christian men in their families to managers, we do want to acknowledge that this characteristic is a critical aspect of their spiritual maturity and readiness for the eldership.
Good managers know the people that they manage. They know their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, fears and aspirations. Simply put, good managers put the people under them in positions where those people can grow and succeed. Really good managers do this in such a way that when things go well, the people under them get all the credit. Conversely, when things do not go well, good managers take the heat. Because good managers have the well-being of those they manage in mind, people love to work for them.
Sadly, a lot of men, who know all kinds of theology, are not good managers of their homes. Their wives and kids look beat-down and lacking in confidence, the family has no direction or sense of purpose, children grow up with no clear vision of what they are doing with their lives. Some bad managers of their homes are dreamers, who are always looking for the next big thing. Because they cannot settle down and work consistently, there is no underlying stability in the home. Other bad managers are authoritarians, who demand external allegiance without sincerely seeking the growth and development of all family members. Still other bad managers aren’t managers at all – they are inattentive and unengaged, acting like overgrown children who are not responsible for the spiritual thriving of their charges.
Certainly all of us fail to manage well in all kinds of ways. The good news is that Jesus Christ, the perfect manager of His people, redeems us from our ever-occurring failures. Jesus had to deal with all kinds of people when He came to earth. He was the Son of God and yet he had to deal with sin-saturated creatures acting as if we were His equals. The amazing thing is that Jesus was able to manage all of his relationships perfectly without treating every person the same way. He dealt with the impetuous Peter differently than He dealt with the devoted John. His interactions with the hard-hearted Pharisees were different from the way He treated broken-hearted sinners like Mary. Jesus rebuked His enemies and nurtured His followers in ways that were perfectly appropriate for each individual.
It is only by His grace that we can hope to be manage others well, but the beauty of the gospel is that it allows us to pursue Christ’s calling for us as the unique people He has made us to be. Every family does not have to look the same. Different individuals have different gifts so the good manager has to know the people in his family and put them into positions in which they can be challenged and ultimately succeed. For example, in our family my wife handles most of our finances. This arrangement makes sense for us. She has a master’s degree in business from Notre Dame, and I am trying to balance two jobs. She has the time, attention, and ability to handle this responsibility; I don’t. I am still responsible for what happens with our finances, but I am grateful that she can use her gifts in this area for the benefit of our family. Delegating this responsibility to her does not undermine my authority in our home. It does not challenge male headship. It just makes good management sense, and it is an example of the kind of thing that is in view when Paul encourages us to manage well.
Paul says that desiring to be an elder in the church is a good thing. Whether or not we ever serve as elders, we should all want to be spiritually mature. At least part of spiritual maturity means that husbands need to manage well. May Jesus give us the wisdom we need to do just that.
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