A third vital question potential candidates for an eldership should be asked can be worded colloquially: do they play well with others? Consider the following Scriptures and you’ll see the basis for such a question.
a. Do they bully anyone?
“They shouldn’t be … a bully.” (1 Timothy 3.3a CEB)
“… supervisors [episkopos] shouldn’t be … a bully …” (Titus 1.7b CEB)
The Greek word translated here as “bully” is plektes and the two texts under consideration include all of the word’s occurrences in the NT. The word casts a large net, being descriptive of someone who strikes, hits, jabs, or shoves people, be it with their ways or their words. As Philip H. Towner wisely notes:
“The degrees and modes of violence that the word might express are numerous (bullying, verbal abuse, angry pushing and shoving), and the prohibition should be regarded as widely as possible.” (The Letters to Timothy and Titus, p.253)
The eldership is no place for a person who pushes people around, verbally or physically. Period.
b. Are they gentle in their dealing with others?
“… they should be gentle …” (1 Timothy 3.3b CEB)
Epieikes is the Greek word translated here as “gentle.” It refers to the giving of kindness and leniency. A person who practices epiekes knows when to extend grace and not stand on their rights or operate slavishly by the law.
Many years before the apostle Paul, Aristotle defined epiekies thus:
“To pardon human failings; to look to the law-giver, not to the law; to the intention, not to the action; to the whole, not to the part; to the character of the actor in the long run and not in the present moment; to remember good rather than the evil, and the good one has received rather than the good that one has done; to bear being injured; to wish to settle a matter by words rather than deeds.” (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon, pp.83-84)
Epiekies appears only five times in the NT and a thoughtful reading of its occurrences aside from 1 Timothy 3.3 is helpful.
(1) Epieikes isn’t just for those we like or feel some natural affinity toward:
“Let your gentleness [epieikes] show in your treatment of all people.” (Philippians 4.5 CEB)
(2) Our speech should give ample evidence of epieikes:
“Remind them to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind [epieikes], and show complete courtesy toward everyone.” (Titus 3.1-2 CEB)
(3) Consider the company epieikes keeps:
“What of the wisdom from above? First, it is pure, and then peaceful, gentle [epieikes], obedient, filled with mercy and good actions, fair, and genuine.” (James 3.17 CEB)
(4) And notice epieikes’ opposite:
“Household slaves, submit by accepting the authority of your masters with all respect. Do this not only to good and kind [epieikes] masters but also to those who are harsh.” (1 Peter 2.18 CEB)
A church with an eldership comprised of individuals full of epieikes (gentleness) would be a blessed church indeed.
c. And finally, are they peaceable toward all?
“… they should be … peaceable …” (1 Timothy 3.3b CEB)
The word is amachos and it appears only here and in Titus 3.2 in the NT. It originally had reference to the absence of physical fighting, as in hand-to-hand combat in wartime. However, through time it came to take on a broader meaning, meaning a complete lack of strife, quarreling, or jockeying for position of any kind. Inscriptions on ancient graves sometimes record the words of a loving husband praising his wife over her not being contentious or quarrelsome, but amachos.
Imagine what personal relationships within and without of the eldership would be like if amachos was the road always traveled.
A final note. The opponents of Timothy and Titus had none of these qualities, being given to the raising of “foolish and thoughtless discussions” that produced “conflicts,” “stupid controversies” and “fights.” (2 Timothy 2.23-25; Titus 3.9) As to confronting their opponents, Paul directed Timothy and Titus to not descend to the level of their adversaries, fighting fire with fire.
Elders after the model of Scripture follow the way of this directive, too, being peacemakers in the church, humble and gracious in spirit, actions, and communication. That is, they play well with others.