1 Timothy 3:1-7
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Last time we were together we studied a subject with which many people find hard, the subject of women in office. A number of you even commented to me after the message that this is a hard teaching in our day.
Someone who might disagree with the Bible’s stance might then retort, “Well, I guess God is a chauvinist then, isn’t he?” That might be how a person might respond. But God continues in chapter three to talk about the office of overseer. And he does so in order that everyone might see that even among men, not every one qualifies for this special office.
God doesn’t want just anyone taking charge over his people. He has high standards. But at the same time, God doesn’t send an angel from heaven to tell us who he wants governing us. He commits us with the solemn responsibility of choosing our leaders.
That ought to make us consider carefully who we would have ruling over us. Worthy candidates for the office of overseer meet God’s criteria. In this passage we find God’s criteria for overseers.
So what are the criteria? What should we be looking for in a church leader? Our passage tells us that a candidate for the office of overseer must possess a personal ambition for it, understand the nature of it, and meet the qualifications for it. So a candidate desires it, understands it, and qualifies for it.
First of all we see that candidates for this office must possess a personal ambition for this office.
I. Possess a personal ambition
Verse 1 says, “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”
Those would be leaders should be people who desire the office they are going to fill.
There have been some who have said otherwise. They think that desiring to be an officer in the church is an act of pomp. They say that one is called to the office, and that people should not seek the office.
As with all error, there is a hint of truth to this: one must be called to the office. But that does not mean one should surpress any desires he has for it.
People can err on the opposite extreme too. Perhaps you’ve seen people become elders in a church against their will. They don’t really want to be a part of the session, but the congregation pressures them into it. They finally say, “OK, I guess I’ll do it.”
In theology we affirm that there is an internal call for the ministry. The external call is the call that the church gives to the one coming to office. The church is God’s instrument in electing and ordaining church leaders. The one God wants to minister in the church will be approved by His people. As a congregation we witness one’s giftedness and character. And then together we testify that they should be a leader. The external call, the call by the congregation, is essential for ordination. One cannot subvert the church’s will and become a dictator in it.
But we also affirm the legitimacy of the inward call. The inward call is the personal desire that one has for the ministry. If someone is to undertake the duties of overseers, then the Lord will place in his heart the internal motivation to do so.
In their book “On Being a Pastor” Alister Beg and Derek Prime relate a story about an Englishman named Alan Stibbs. When in school Stibbs was part of a well attended group called the Scripture Union. While it was a well attended group, there was no one who would undertake the leadership of the group. So for two years, between the ages of 16 and 18, Stibbs carried the responsibility alone. Three times a week he had to stand before his school contemporaries and expound the scriptures to them.
In his own words Stibbs wrote, "I began as a schoolboy of 17 to pray for the gift of prophesying. On each occasion when I expounded the word I prayed for the grace worthily to exercise the gift to the glory of God and blessing of men.”
Here is a young man who demonstrates a healthy desire for the ministry. His circumstances might be a little different, being he was virtually thrust into the ministry. But his desires were nonetheless real.
But let’s remember those desires must be set upon the appropriate thing. It’s possible that someone would desire the office of overseer, but his desires are misguided because his understanding of the office is wrong. He might desire the position because it is a place of high status and respect. Of course, if that is the case, his desires are no different from that of the Pharisees Jesus rebuked. You remember Jesus said of the Pharisees they loved being greeted in the marketplace and the seats of prominence at feasts and social gatherings. That’s why candidates for the office of overseer must understand the nature of the office.
II. understand the nature of the office
In this passage Paul uses the Greek word episkopos. We translate it into English as either “bishop” or “overseer.”
When we think of bishops we might think of Roman Catholicism or the Episcopal church where they have high ranking officials called bishops. But in the early church they did not have such a hierarchy. A bishop was, for the most part, synonymous with elder. It just emphasizes a different aspect of the ministry.
The word elder has to do with ruling and governing the people of God. Elder, then, has to do with authority. But episkopos deals with responsibility. Paul uses the word bishop (or overseer) he wants to emphasize that the church leader is charged with the task of oversight of God’s people. In other words, the spiritual well-being of those in the church is his responsibility.
In using the word overseer, we find that the church leader is much like a nurse. When you are in the hospital a nurse comes to check on you regularly. He or she checks your vitals on a regular basis and tend to your needs in order that you may become healthy again.
That is what an overseer does. An elder in the church must tend to all his parishioners like patients. He checks their spiritual vitals signs by regular visitations to their home. He tends to their needs as he comes before the Lord in prayer. He does many things in order that they might maintain a healthy spiritual life.
But not only does Paul emphasize the responsibility of a church leader, he also emphasizes the strain.
He does not say “the one who desires the office of an overseer desires a good office.” He says “he desires a good work.” Calvin makes much of this point in his commentary on this passage. He goes to great lengths to communicate the fact that the one who holds this office will face a great ordeal. Leadership in the church is a difficult task. It can be a strain upon one’s person because it requires a great amount of time and energy.
There are meetings to go attend. There are visitations that will take you away from your home and family. It is required that you spend time in prayer for each of those put under your care, their children, and for their personal problems and joys.
I was once talking with a fellow at work whose son is a wrestler at Ashland High School. He had some pictures at his work station, and I was looking at them. He pointed out which one was his son. And like a proud father he said that his son qualified for state competition this past year. He also mentioned that his son was a senior. I then asked if he was going to go on and play in college. He responded that he wasn’t sure that he was. College wrestling is a lot different than High School. It takes up a lot of one’s time. You have to really invest yourself as an athlete if you are going to play on that level.
While his son loved the sport, and desired to participate in it, there is the possibility that the work load (the mere time investment) would keep him away from it.
The same holds true for those who would be ministers in the church. If you desire the office of overseer, then you must also desire the work that comes with it. If you don’t much care for people, then that might be a good indicator that you are not made out for such a work. If you don’t like being bothered much with people’s problems, then most likely, church work is not for you.
But, on the other hand, if these things in some way attract you, then you might be God’s man for the job.
A candidate for the gospel ministry then, must possess ambition for the ministry and knowledge of the ministry. But we must not think that these alone make one eligible for the office. Even among those who desire the office and its rigors, there are some who still do not qualify. Candidates must must also meet the right criteria.
III. meet the spiritual qualifications
In all there are 15 qualifications that one must meet in order to be a candidate for the office. Now if we spent time examining each one we would be here all night. As a matter of fact, when I was in seminary, the president of the school would give a sermon on one of the qualifications each time he was to speak. Certainly I am not going to do that!
If you like homework for personal study, you can meditate on these qualifications more than we will here. You could do what William Hendrickson did and match each attribute with someone in the Bible.
For the sake of time I will abbreviate and condense. If we look at verses 2&3 we find that the overseer must be…
A. an overall moral man [2-3]
I think it is summed up in the very first virtue spoken of in the list. He must be “above reproach.”
As a leader an elder must set an example for the people of God. If the leadership lacks good moral character, then where will the congregation stand in comparison? Paul says in 1 Cor. 11:1, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” He set himself as a standard for the people. They were to follow his example of godliness.
An elder must possess that same quality. This is not to say that they are perfect, of course. But this person does express an exceptional level of morality. One that people cannot easily criticize.
Let me just touch on a few others in this list. It says that the elder should be the “husband of one wife.” When we read that we think that it excludes people who were divorced or who had a wife who died and then the man remarried. But that is imputing our day upon the text. You must remember that back then it was common to have multiple wives. Polygamy was a norm in that day. He is saying that an elder must have one wife at a time. So let’s not assume that divorce automatically excludes one from the office of overseer.
He also says that an elder must be “hospitable.” Some virtues are emphasized more than others, and I would say that this one is considered a throw away. But God’s word says that an elder must be one who is ready to bring others into his home. He must be one who is filled with compassion. So much so that he is willing to do sacrificial acts of charity. We read in Romans 12 that all Christians are commanded to be hospitable, but, as with all duties incumbent upon Christians, an elder must demonstrate it in a greater degree. We cannot disregard hospitality because it is part of one’s general morality.
We will let the other qualities in those two verses be for your personal study. We have seen enough to say that the elder should be an overall moral man. If we look at the next two verses we can summarize them by saying the elder must be…
B. a good patriarch [4-5]
These verses have to do with his home. Let’s read them together. “He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive,  for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God's church?”
Some have asserted that the elder must be a married man. They would point to these verses as well as the phrase “the husband of but one wife.” But marriage is not a requisite for an elder. Single or widowed men may certainly qualify.
These verses only pertain to those who have families. And what it means is that the home is the testing ground for the ministry. Within the walls of you home you have a little congregation. God has entrusted us fathers and husbands with the care of his people. And if we cannot rule them well, then how is it that we can think we would do well with other people and other people’s families?
Now note that it does not say that the children are all saints. It says that his management of them is exceptional. Dr. Donald McNair, a long time professor at Covenant Seminary, almost quite the ministry because he had a child who was quite rebellious. In his teenage years he caused a great amount of problems within the community. Because he thought his son’s rebellion disqualified him for the ministry, Dr. McNair came to his Session and submitted his resignation.
The session in turn refused his resignation, saying that he did manage his house well. Dr. McNair did everything he could to help his child lead an orderly life. It was just that the son was obstinate, and would not heed his father’s words.
The Bible’s instruction is that the overseer must manage his house well, it does not mean that he will have a perfect house.
ØVerse 6 gives us another characteristic. The elder must be…
C. a mature Christian 
“He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.”
In the original language this is put quite poeticly. It literally says, “He must not be newly planted.” The idea is of one who has had enough time to grow roots in the faith, so he is fragile.
When Elizabeth and I lived in Indiana one of my yearly tasks was an attempt at getting grass to grow. The first year’s crop was so pitiful. But no matter the bounty of grass, there were a few that crept up. And that is the most critical time for the grass. They can’t take any pressure, and you must wait until the grass matures in order to cut it.
That’s how it must be with our leaders. We must not adgitate them by putting them in a position where they might be damaged. And that’s exactly what Paul points out. The new convert becomes conceited and falls under judgement.
You might remember a while back that Deon Sanders made an evangelical profession of faith. What immediately happened? People put him in a place of prominence, and made him go around preaching. Rather than helping the kingdom, they were exposing this young one in the faith to much harm.
And if you think about it, why would you want a new convert leading a congregation. Most people don’t go to doctors who haven’t even had any experience.
But sometimes people don’t think about these things when they elect their officers. They see someone who is a successful businessman and they think, “let’s make him a leader,” despite his immaturity.
If you look though, our list is not a list of skills. The only real skill mentioned is his being apt to teach. We scrutinize one’s character.
And so far we have seen that that elder must be a moral man, a good patriarch, a mature Christian, and finally, he must be…
D. a reputable person 
Verse 7 says, “Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.”
Funny how one of a leader’s references for church office must be from the unbelievers.
If you were to ask any High School coach what he would rather have, an all star athlete without any discipline or an average player with excellent discipline, most often they would take the average player. That’s because they know that they can do more with that average player. The average player will be a team player and team leader because he is disciplined.
And that’s exactly the same with who God wants to hold office in his church. He does not necessarily want someone who is famous or popular, he wants men who are disciplined and godly.
As you can see from tonight’s study, God does not open the doors for anyone to fill the office of overseer. He is quite choosy. And as we choose our leaders we must be just as selective. Candidates for church office must posses the desire, know their duty, and meet his standards.
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