[The overseer must be …] hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict. (NASB)
Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Heb 13:2 ESV)
The sense of hospitality is captured best in this verse. The roots of the word, philoxenos, in Titus are love and strangers. In Hebrews, the word, philonexia, is derived from philoxenos. The point of this is that hospitality in biblical times was more than inviting friends and acquaintances over for a barbeque. A good example is in Judges 19:11-21. A Levite and his concubine stop in Gibeah hoping that someone will provide lodging for the night. He stopped in the town square but was ignored by everyone until an old man came by, took him in, fed his donkey, and then they ate and drank. John commends Gaius for his hospitality to itinerant preachers for doing this very same thing (3 John 5-8).
So hospitality was originally directed toward people who were stranger and in some need. We have various options to doing the same thing. The first level reflects Gaius actions. We can be host homes for missionaries who are home for a short time or guest speakers. These are Christian brothers and sisters who are doing the work of the Lord and need encouragement. It seems that this has fallen out of vogue as many churches arrange hotel accommodations instead of a home environment. Where is eating and drinking together that forms bonds of fellowship if these people are left to a hotel room and continental breakfast the next morning?
Another opportunity for hospitality is with exchange students. These are indeed strangers with customs and cultures unlike our own. The marvelous opportunity is to be able to demonstrate to these young people what a Christian family is like, opening the doors for sharing the Gospel. A shorter-term example is connecting with a campus ministry and inviting students for a Sunday meal or a game night. There are untold thousands of international students who would love to learn more about this country’s culture. Unfortunately, many leave understanding that we are exclusive and inhospitable. These are all ways that literally fulfill the meaning of loving aliens.
Seek good, not evil, that you may live. Then the Lord God Almighty will be with you, just as you say he is. Hate evil, love good; maintain justice in the courts. Perhaps the Lord God Almighty will have mercy on the remnant of Joseph. (Amos 5:14-15 NIV)
An elder must love good. God pleaded with Israel to seek and love good or there would be consequences. However, there would also be blessings for those who did love good rather than evil. The Lord would be with them and have mercy on them. An elder certainly needs to have God with him. Leading a congregation presents temptations and trials that others don’t face. Whether it means to treat everyone equally, handle finances honestly, or judge sin within the congregation, there is always the possibility that the leaders will sin while doing it. If there is any doubt, just look back on how many mega church pastors have fallen because they didn’t love good more than their own sinful desires. If the media emphasizes their sins, how many more small-church leaders sin and it never gets press? Church history provides abundant examples of abuses because people in leadership roles did not love good.
Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes And clever in their own sight! (Isa 5:20-21 NASU)
It sounds so easy to love good and hate evil, yet many problems occur because people don’t know what is good and what is evil. Even worse are those who do know and blur any distinction or even substitute one for the other. Paul prayed for those who don’t know the difference; he prayed that their love would abound, but with knowledge and discernment so they would be pure and blameless (Phil 1:9-11). This is fitting for the role of an elder, to be able to teach and admonish so that they will be able know the difference between good and evil.
However, there isn’t much we can do for those who exchange evil for good except preach the Gospel and pray. Paul described them in Romans 1:18-32. Paul states that God’s wrath is revealed against their actions (Rom 1:18). He continues by stating that they have no excuse because they should have known God (Rom 1:19-21). Their rejection of Him leads to the foolishly thinking that they are wise (Rom 1:21-23). Then it gets worse as Paul clearly states that God lets them have what they want, impurity (Rom 1:24), dishonorable passions (Rom 1:26), and a debased mind (Rom 1:28). What is sobering is that following Paul’s indictment, he turns the table and tells us that we have no excuse when we judge people like this because we do the same thing (Rom 2 and following).
Praise the Lord! Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good! His faithful love endures forever. (Ps 106:1 NLT)
Loving good cannot be done apart from loving God. He is the only one who is truly good and it is demonstrated in his faithful love for us. An elder, and any Christian, must first love God. However, not all people who claim to love God live lives that reflect it. John told us that if we claim to love God yet hate others, then we are liars (1 John 4:20). Isaiah reprimanded Jerusalem for only paying lip service to the Lord (Isa 29:13) and Jesus quoted him when he reprimanded the Pharisees and scribes in Jerusalem (Matt 15:8-9). The problem isn’t new so it is important to be fruit inspectors to see if a person’s life matches his mouth before appointing him as an elder. It applies to our own lives as well. How well do our lips and our lives agree with each other? Do we really love good?
Exhort and Refute
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called "today," that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Heb 3:13 RSV)
Making it personal, we must also strive to have the same attributes as the elders. If we don’t hold fast to the faith and sound teaching, guess what happens? The elders will be the ones that will have to take us aside, and either exhort or refute us. Sometimes, they aren’t the first to do this. We are all called to exhort one another, and to do that every day. What is the difference between exhorting and refuting? The word exhort in these verses is also translated as comfort. It means, “Beseech, call for, (be of good) comfort, desire, (give) exhort (-ation), intreat, pray.” Simply looking at all the ways that the Greek word is used in the Bible with different translations instructs us how we exhort each other.
- Matt 8:5 – the centurion came to Jesus and appealed to him to heal his servant (ESV).
- Matt 8:31 – the demons begged Jesus to let them escape into the pigs (NIV).
- Matt 18:32 – the master forgave his servant because he pleaded with him (NASU).
- Matt 26:53 – Jesus said that he could pray to the Father for angels to protect him (NKJV).
- Luke 3:18 – John the Baptist exhorted and preached to the good news (RSV).
- Acts 28:20 – Paul asked the Jewish leaders of Rome to come to and get acquainted with them (NLT).
- 2 Cor 1:4 – God comforts us in all our afflictions (ESV).
- Titus 1:9 – encourage with sound teaching (NIV).
The depth of the emotion and the urgency of the situation in each passage determine the translation of the word. It shows that when we are called to exhort someone that it isn’t harsh criticism but everything from tender comfort to pleading and begging to good teaching. Exhorting would not be the same as preaching a hell-fire-and-brimstone warning. That is a different method altogether.
Preach the word of God. Be prepared, whether the time is favorable or not. Patiently correct, rebuke, and encourage your people with good teaching. (2 Tim 4:2 NLT)
Refute is not used as often as exhort, but the various translations and uses in different verses still convey ways that help us counter those who need correction. The meaning is, “1. to convict, refute, confute, generally with a suggestion of the shame of the person convicted … by conviction to bring to light, to expose. 2. to find fault with, correct; a. by word; to reprehend severely, chide, admonish, reprove … contextually, to call to account, show one his fault, demand an explanation; b. by deed; to chasten, punish.”
- Matt 18:15 – tell a person his fault when they sin against you (NKJV).
- Luke 3:19 – John the Baptist reproved (ESV), reprimanded (NASU), criticized (NLT), rebuked (NIV) Herod.
- John 3:20 – the wicked like darkness because the light exposes their deeds (ESV).
- John 16:8 – the Holy Spirit convicts the world of sin (ESV).
- Eph 5:11 – we are to expose sinful behavior (NASU).
- 1 Tim 5:20 – elders who sin are to be rebuked publicly (ESV).
Rebuking doesn’t bring the same range of emotions as exhort. It leans toward the concept of laying out the facts and being harsh. Sometimes it is in private and other times it is public. With the Holy Spirit, it is internal whether He uses a person or the Word. On the opposite side of the scale, rebuking people can also be very public. However, it is often used in conjunction with exhorting. Paul’s instruction in 2 Timothy 4:2 does not condone blasting someone with the truth and then expecting a sudden correction of the problem. Patience suggests that it may take many times and different approaches. Just as in Matthew 18:15-17, it starts private, brings in others, and then finally becomes public when the rebuke is not heeded.
Moreover, they shall teach My people the difference between the holy and the profane, and cause them to discern between the unclean and the clean. (Ezek 44:23 NASB)
One of the duties of the priest in the Old Testament was to teach God’s people. The foundation of that teaching or doctrine was to enable people to make a distinction between the holy and the profane. What was holy would be things pertaining to righteousness, things consecrated to God or godliness are synonyms for holy. On the other hand, they also needed to know what was profane; those things that included wickedness and irreverence toward God. Unclean referred to those things that were contemptible in God’s sight; they were the things that cause people to sin. The clean things were those that were acceptable in God’s sight.
This is the basic principle for sound doctrine. We are not under the law, so the concepts of clean and unclean are not the same for us as they were for those under the Mosaic Law. For example, Jesus declared all food clean (Mark 7:19) and it was reemphasized and expanded to Peter in Acts 10:9-16 when he had a vision of unclean animals but was told to eat them. However holy and profane are broader and emphasized in the New Testament in various places. Paul clearly sets the same kind of standard in Galatians 5:18-26. He says we are not under the Law but condemns the works of the flesh and upholds the fruit of the Spirit.
But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light. (1 Peter 2:9 ESV)
So, sound doctrine has not changed from the Old Testament to the New. The foundation is the same and since we are all called to be a royal priesthood, we should be prepared to do the same as the elders. We don’t have an excuse for not learning good doctrines or understanding Christian theology (the study of the nature of God and belief). This will keep us from falling into the traps of cults, heresies, doubts, and other problems as well as helping those who have.
 NT:5382 philoxenos "loving strangers" (xenia, "hospitality"), translated "a lover of hospitality" in Titus 1:8, KJV
(from Vine's Expository Dictionary of Biblical Words, Copyright © 1985, Thomas Nelson Publishers.)
 NT:3870 (Biblesoft's New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance with Expanded Greek-Hebrew Dictionary. Copyright © 1994, 2003, 2006 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.)
 NT:1651 (from Thayer's Greek Lexicon, PC Study Bible formatted Electronic Database. Copyright © 2006 by Biblesoft, Inc. All rights reserved.)