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Leadership Requires Character

On August 19, 2009

“. . .The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Gal. 5:22-23, NRSV).

In examining the biblical qualities of a leader, last week we considered the similarity between the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) and the qualities Paul requires for elders and overseers (1 Tim. 3:2-3), deacons (1 Tim. 3:8), and widows who also held leadership (1 Tim. 3:11). While many churches today have specific gender requirements for leadership, Scripture is far more concerned with character than gender.

Shortly after making this point, a reader wrote in to say that while gender should not be the primary issue, to “leave gender out of 1 Timothy” is not a fair or balanced treatment of Scripture. What a wonderful comment! It is true, Paul is concerned with gender in 1 Timothy because the women at Ephesus were individuals whose leadership did not demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit. Paul is objecting not to their gender, but to their leadership that domineered over men. We understand this because of the unique verb Paul selects for “authority” (1 Tim 2:12).

Rather than using the most common Greek terms for authority or oversight, like exousia or proistemo, Paul uses the termauthentein—a word that would have interested first century readers! Why? Because authentein means to dominate, to usurp or to misappropriate authority, or to behave in violent ways even to the point of murder.

That is why various translations of Scripture have translated 1 Timothy 2:12 in the following ways, as noted by Linda Belleville in Discovering Biblical Equality, Complementarity without Hierarchy:

Vulgate (4th–5th century AD) as, “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to domineer over a man.”

The Geneva Bible (1560 edition) as, “I permit not a woman to teach, neither to usurp authority over the man.”

King James Version (1611) as, “I suffer not a woman to teach, nor usurp authority over a man.”

The New English Bible (1961) “I do not permit a woman to be a teacher, nor must woman domineer over man.”

This exceptional Greek word authentein makes it clear that what Paul is objecting to in 1 Timothy 2:12 is leadership which is domineering. Just as Peter said that elders are to lead “by example” and not by domineering (1 Pet. 5:2-3), Jesus said that leadership consists of service rather than lording it over others.

Jesus told his disciples: “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. It will not be so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Matt. 20:25-28, NRSV).

Remember, Paul had no difficulty with the leadership of women like Phoebe. It was Phoebe’s character that qualified her for service as a deacon in Cenchrea (Rom. 16:1-2). How do we know she had an outstanding character? Paul introduces her to the church in Rome (Rom. 16:1-2) by calling her a diakonos(deacon) and prostatis (one who is highly regarded because of their hard work in the Lord, see 1 Thess. 5:12). Paul asks us to respect such leaders (whom he characterizes by the termprostatis) because they work hard in the Lord (1 Thess. 5:13).

Unlike the women in Ephesus whose leadership was characterized by domination, Phoebe’s was noted by her hard work to which the terms prostatis and diakonos suggest. Her leadership was like the Lord’s; she worked hard on behalf of others. It was her character, evidenced by her service, that made her a leader. May we select leaders who are like Phoebe, who work hard on behalf of the church!

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