He must not be violent . . .
No quick-tempered men can be appointed as elders in the Christian church. Much like the prohibition on arrogance, the implications for this qualification are sobering. Any man who has a consistently short fuse, manifested in biting sarcasm, impatience, inability to be corrected, thin-skinnedness leading to grudge-holding, etc., would not have been considered as an overseer by Titus in Crete. Though these men may have been theologically sound, disciplined in their work, pious, they would at the least have to be sidelined for a season of discipleship and maturation. Again, sobering.
What interests me this morning is the quick-temper that erupts into violence, which is separately rebuked here. At least in this context, violence is a common enough temptation for these men that it receives its own treatment. This cannot be limited to Cretans (evil beasts though they are, Titus 1:12), for Paul makes the same point in his qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:3, where we read He must not be violent, but gentle.
On the surface, this affords a source of humor in a list of serious vices. “I guess I’ll have to give up my life of violence!” I must confess, I have never been involved in any sort of brawl, and feel much more convicted by the prohibition of arrogance. But the more I reflect on it, pastors do find themselves frequently in situations of escalating tempers. Ours is a business that often makes people angry. Just a week ago, as I sat in a family’s living room, a twenty-one year old man pointed his finger at me and yelled, “I would never go to your church, because you’re not qualified to be a preacher!” Moments later, his middle-aged father pointed his own finger at me and shouted, “When you’re in my house and I tell you to shut up, you will shut up!” (Thankfully, these were not members of my church!) In an environment of such verbal attacks, my temper rose within me much more quickly than I would have ever expected. God was merciful in this instance and kept me from anger, but it is well within my capacity for sin to return hostility for hostility. I feel quite confident that I am sinful enough to even come to blows in the right situation, if God himself did not intervene. But no matter how justifiable the violence may have seemed at the time, the reputation of the brawling preacher would be forever marred, and the Gospel would be tarnished. As pastors, we are called to a violence whose fury cannot be compared to throwing fists and screaming expletives – we are at war with the god of this age, armed to the teeth with the Gospel of a risen King so fierce that crucifixion and death itself were unable to hold him. (Acts 2:24; cf Colossians 1:3-14)
But this leads to a final practical observation: if I occasionally find myself in atmospheres of sinful violence as a pastor, how much more might many of the men of my church find themselves tempted in a completely worldly working environment? If I would exhort them to trust in the sovereignty and justice of God enough to believe he will make all things right in his time, I must model this, even when doors are slammed in my face, or am provoked in a church softball game. May we all exhibit the meekness of Christ, who endured the abuse of Pilot, knowing that he would one day call him forth to judgment. He must not be violent.