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The Character of the Christian: Above Reproach
January 21, 2016
I told you last week about a new series that looks at the character of the Christian. What I mean to do is explore how the character qualifications of elders are actually God’s calling on all Christians. While elders are meant to exemplify these traits, all Christians are to display them. I want us to consider whether we actually do display these traits and to learn together how we can pray to have them in greater measure.
We begin today with the qualification of “above reproach.” This is given in 1 Timothy 3:2 (“Therefore an overseer must be above reproach”) and repeated twice in Titus 1 (“If anyone is above reproach … For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach”—verses 6 and 7). Whatever it means to be above reproach, it is not only for elders or church leaders. Colossians 3 teaches that the great hope and comfort of every Christian is that God himself will one day “present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him” (Colossians 1:22). Every Christian is to be and to live above reproach. As John MacArthur says, “The reason [this qualification] is called for at the pastoral level is because we are the example which you are all to follow. And if [being above reproach] is part of that example, then guess what is required of you? The same [trait].”
What does it mean to be above reproach? What the ESV translates as “above reproach” is first a legal word that indicates a kind of innocence in the eyes of the law. It means that no one can legitimately rebuke you or make any charges against you that will stick. They may accuse, but your conduct will eventually acquit you by proving you blameless (“blameless” being a far more common translation than “above reproach”). Your life is so consistent that your reputation is credible, you are an example worth following, and you do not make the gospel look fake by teaching one thing while doing another.
Naturally, we want to know the law before which we must be found blameless and the standard we must uphold. In his book Biblical Eldership, Alexander Strauch explains that, “What is meant by ‘above reproach’ is defined by the character qualities that follow the term.” Thus, being “above reproach” is expressed through those other qualities in 1 Timothy 3:2, Titus 1, and, by extension, 1 Peter 5. Being above reproach in your marriage means you are “the husband of one wife.” Being above reproach in your thought life means you are “sober-minded.” Being above reproach in your actions means you are “self-controlled.” What we see is that this is a kind of summary attribute and that the blameless Christian is the one who upholds all of God’s revealed will. Of course, being above reproach does not mean being perfect. But it does mean that, when we sin, we confess it and turn from it because our standard is perfection (Matthew 5:48).
The primary means through which you gain this characteristic is taking advantage of God’s means of grace—reading the Bible and deliberately applying it, praying privately and with your family, faithfully attending your church’s worship services, participating in the sacraments, and so on. These are the very means through which God extends his sanctifying grace and you cannot expect to be or remain above reproach if you neglect them.
The most thorough evaluation of your life will come in the weeks that follow as we examine the more precise character qualifications that are summarized by this one. But in the meantime, these questions may be worth thinking through as you consider whether or not you are above reproach.
- Are there any ongoing sins in your life that would bring shame to you, your family, and your local church if they were made public? Are there any parts of your life you deliberately hide from others?
- Do you know what sins you are particularly prone to and do you have measures in your life to guard against the temptation to these sins?
- Are you taking advantage of God’s means of grace? Are you regularly attending church and participating in the life of the church? Do you have times of private and family worship?
- Do you think your life right now is pleasing to God? When it is not, are you quick to seek the forgiveness of both man and God and to display repentance by making significant changes?
- If your close friends or people in your church heard charges against you, would their reaction be, “That’s not possible!” or “I knew it!”? What does this response say about you?
As we begin to consider character qualifications, we need to acknowledge that they are gifts of God’s grace that we receive and display in obedience to him. As God’s children, he works in us what is pleasing in his sight (Hebrews 13:20-21). So as we aim to be above reproach, we acknowledge that we can be this and have this only through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit who works in us to do and even to have the will to do (Philippians 2:12-13). And this is why we must pray to gain these qualities, to maintain them, and to increase in them. To that end, here are some ways you may wish to pray:
- I pray that I would joyfully and obediently “do all things without grumbling or disputing, that I may be blameless and innocent, a child of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom I shine as a light in the world” (Philippians 2:14-15).
- I pray that your Holy Spirit would help me identify sin in my life wherever it exists and to quickly put that sin to death.
- I pray that I would diligently pursue personal holiness by and through the gospel.
- I pray that I would be and remain blameless in your eyes and in the eyes of man. Make my conduct match my profession so my life does not display even a trace of hypocrisy.
- I pray that when I sin I would be quick to seek the forgiveness of both man and God.
- I pray that if I am ever accused of sin or evil, I would be able to be found innocent, blameless in your eyes.
Next week we will look at the qualification of “the husband of one wife,” and see it as a call upon all Christians to pursue a life of sexual purity and integrity.