3 It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. 4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Paul is now getting into the qualities of leaders in the church. In this chapter, he discusses two different offices: bishops/elders and deacons. The elders are the overseers of the church, kind of like a board of trustees of the organization. The deacons we will talk about next time.
I feel the need to constantly remind myself (and anyone reading along with me) that this is a direction to Timothy who is planting churches and helping them grow and establish themselves, particularly in Ephesus. Paul planted the church at Ephesus and then (as we read in the introduction to the letter) left Timothy to tend to it as it grows. This is why it is important for Paul to outline what qualities the leaders should have. What principles can we gain from this list that Paul gave us? The overall theme is seen in the beginning of verse 2, must be above reproach. What does it mean to be above reproach?
Some look at this as an exhaustive and comprehensive list. Yet, we tend to still pick and choose what we want to apply according to our current society and its churches. We agree with the ability to teach, hospitality, “not addicted to wine,” and then we get to “the husband of one wife” and we pause to figure out what that means. Does it mean the man cannot be polygamous (which was very common at that time)? Does it mean he cannot have been divorced? Does it mean that he has to be married? What if someone is appointed an overseer and his wife leaves him or he has already been divorced and falls in love again while in office? Can you see the danger in cutting phrases out of context?
Paul has made us a sandwich to exemplify what a good candidate for this office should be. The “bread” is being above reproach, both inside the church and out. The “meat” is examples of what that means. Someone who has his family in order, who is peaceable and loving, kind to all, knows what he is talking about, and is a respected member of both the church congregation as well as the community of unbelievers. The aforementioned “husband of one wife” is specific to their culture. In those times, divorce and polygamy was considered heathenistic and therefore would take away from the respectability of the person as well as the office they held or the organization that put them there. This also directly relates to the leadership of women in the church, which was addressed in the previous passage. Paul instructs that it needs to be someone who is solid and firm in faith, so that the enemy cannot deceive or destroy. Verse 6 makes me think about the military. Nobody would take someone fresh out of boot camp and put them in charge of a platoon; they don’t yet have the experience or knowledge to do it effectively. You certainly wouldn’t send in a new private to represent the platoon to the battalion commander! A corporation wouldn’t send someone who was hired last week to represent the company for a huge brokerage deal. Why then should this be any different? Church leaders should be seasoned and reinforced by knowledge.
It seems as though it is easy for us to look at this passage, specifically through the lens of verse 1 and think, “well, this doesn’t apply to me.” Sure it does! This is what a mature Christian looks like. No, not all of us are designed to be deacons or elders, however we are all purposed to grow into maturity in Christ. Whether we like it or not, as Christians we are looked at and scrutinized for how we act.
Do you act in a way that accurately portrays the love and gospel of Christ?