1 Timothy 3:3, Violent. This passage (vv. 3–7) lists the qualifications of an elder or leader of a congregation. One of the of character traits that he is not to possess is that of being a brawler (KJV), violent (NKJV) or pugnacious (NAS). What do the words brawler, violent or pugnacious mean here? It is the Greek word amachos meaning one who is by nature “a fighter, contentious, quarrelsome, one who causes strife, or one who is combative.” In modern terms, he’s a bully. Perhaps you remember the neighborhood bully from your years as a school child? An elder, overseer or shepherd of a congregation is not to be such a person. This is what Paul had in mind when he gave these instructions concerning the qualifications of an elder.
So let’s now explore this issue a little further. Is there ever a time when spiritual leaders may need to resort to forceful words or even forceful actions to protect YHVH’s spiritual sheep? What, for example, did David mean when he asks the following question in Psalm 94:16?
Who will rise up for me against the evildoers? Or who will stand up for me against the workers of iniquity?
What did Yeshua mean when describing a good shepherd versus an evil hireling shepherd when he said that unlike the evil shepherd, a good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep and protects them from those who come to kill, steal and destroy the sheep? He says that the good shepherd defends the sheep, while the evil shepherd runs away (John 10:7–15). Another example of an evil shepherd is found in Ezekiel 34 where such a shepherd fails to protect the sheep from the beasts of the field (Ezek 34:7–10). How does a shepherd protect his sheep from the wolves who want to kill them? With nice words and platitudes, while singing Kumbaya, holding a candlelight vigil and then begging the wolf to leave and go elsewhere “pretty please, with cream and sugar on top”? Hardly, for the twenty-third psalm speaks of a shepherd who is armed with a rod and staff—and such brings comfort to the sheep (Ps 23:4) who know that the good shepherd has their best interests in mind. The staff was for leading and guiding the sheep, while the rod was for protecting the sheep against predators. On the sheep farm I was raised on, we used a rifle instead of a rod to protect our sheep. It’s interesting how the Bible prophesies that Yeshua, our Chief Shepherd (1 Pet 2:25; 5:4), will rule the world with a rod of iron in the Millennium (Rev 20:7–10).
Here are more questions to consider. Was Phinehas, the son of Aaron the high priest, a brawler and therefore disqualified from being an leader or overseer in Israel when he rose up boldly and thrust a spear through the two Israelites who were fornicating and bringing a plague on Israel (Num 25:5–9)? Evidently not, for YHVH commended him for his zeal in putting evil out of the camp of Israel and rewarded him with an everlasting priesthood (v. 13).
Was Nehemiah, the governor of Jerusalem, disqualified from being an elder or overseer in Israel when he stood up against the Jews who were buying and selling on the Sabbath and intermarrying with the surrounding heathens? How did he deal with these sinners? This is what the Bible record declares that this righteous man did,
And I contended with them, and cursed them, and smote certain of them, and plucked off their hair, and made them swear by Elohim, saying, Ye shall not give your daughters unto their sons, nor take their daughters unto your sons, or for yourselves. (Neh 13:25)
Sadly, such a man as Nehemiah, if he were a pastor in most of our modern churches, would have been run out of town on a rail by his congregates!
What about John the Baptist? How about Yeshua? Were they whimpy kind of men when dealing with the spiritual wolves of their day? Actually, John lost his head because he confronted King Herod calling him to account for his sin. He called the religious leaders of his day “vipers” (Matt 3:7) as did Yeshua (Matt 12:34; Luke 3:7). On numerous times, Yeshua called the Jewish leaders hypocrites, and he even pronounced woe on them—a form of rebuke and denunciation (e.g., Matt 6:2, 5, 16; Matt 23;13, 15, 23, 25, 27, etc.). He also called them fools (e.g., Matt 23:17, 19), spiritual adulterers (Matt 12:39; 16:4), and whitewashed tombs (Matt 23:27). He called his disciples “faithless and perverse” (Matt 17:17; Luke 9:41)
Not only that, Yeshua called the Jews, “children of the devil” (John 8:44).
To add insult to injury, at least in the mind of some, Yeshua even got physically violent when he overturned the moneychangers tables and cast them out of the temple area with a rope whip (Matt 21:12). The word cast in this verse in the Greek means “drive out, to send out with a notion of violence.” Was our Lord a violent man in the sense of being a brawler, and therefore, disqualified from being the Chief Shepherd over Israel? Or was he passionate for truth, and as the Spirit of Elohim led, he forcefully stood up against evil-doers like David declares in Psalm 94:16, and as Phinehas and Nehemiah did?
What about the apostolic writers? How did they deal with evil doers? The Scriptures record that they were men of potent words and spicy speech. Paul, on one instance, described some false teachers as “dogs” (Phil 3:2). He even called the inhabitants of the island of Crete “liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons” (Tit 1:12-13). Were Paul to say such a thing today, he would be labeled a racist! Jude pronounced woe (a rebuke and denunciation) upon false teachers (Jude 1:4, 11), and addressing carnally-minded believers, James refers to them as “you adulterers and adulteresses” and “enemies of Elohim” (Jas 4:4).
Did the apostles just shoot off like arrows powerful sounding words, or were these words followed with actions against the grievous wolves who had come to destroy their spiritual flocks? Of such individuals, Paul instructs us not only note or beware of them, but to avoid them (Rom 16:17), not to even eat with such people (1 Cor 5:11), to turn away from such people (2 Tim 3:5); to withdraw from them (2 Thess 3:5) and to reject them (Tit 3:10).
Did the apostolic writers ever name the names of grievous wolves who were attempting to divide YHVH’s spiritual flock? In fact they did, and put them into letters that became public information (2 Tim 2:16–17; 4:14; 3 John 9–11; Acts 8:20–23). Why did they resort to these extraordinary measures? It was to protect the spiritual flock from those who were out to destroy YHVH’s sheep. What they were doing in identifying these troublemakers was in line with what Yeshua instructed in Matthew 18:17. There, Yeshua is instructing his disciples on how to deal with strife and contention within the congregation.
Hopefully, from this brief study, it should be evident that being by nature a brawler or a pugnacious sort of an individual is one thing—something which rightly should disqualify one from being an elder. However, being a righteous and godly shepherd who protects and who will defend YHVH’s sheep with his life is another thing. In so doing, he must follow biblical guidelines and the examples of righteous men as recorded in the Scriptures especially when using forceful words and physical force, when, on the rare occasion it is necessary.