As most of you know, we practice verse by verse preaching at this church, rather than trying to approach the scripture from a topical perspective. There are times when I think I would like to preach topically, and perhaps today is one of those days. But for the most part, I feel that the verse by verse, chapter by chapter approach is better for me, because it keeps me in line with God’s priorities, rather than my own, which may vacillate from week to week depending on the circumstances.
We have been studying the first letter to Timothy for the last few weeks, and so we are at this particular passage today by the providence of God. The purpose of writing this letter, as Paul states in vs 15 of this chapter, is “so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.”
Now I suppose I could say that this subject is one that we could well postpone, or skip over, or save for a Wednesday night Bible study and not do any great harm. But as we come to church today, as we worship the Lord, it is important that we do so according to God’s design for the church. It is His church, and as Jesus said, they that worship God must worship Him in Spirit and in truth.
That being said, the Christian community today has been playing fast and loose with the template for the church for quite a number of years now. First of all, they have played with the authority and inerrancy of God’s word. While most churches feign obeisance to the Bible, in reality they don’t believe it is inerrant. They don’t believe it is absolute truth. They don’t believe it is authoritative.
And so they have thought that the ordinances of the church and the gospel of the church, and the leadership structure of the church are something that they can change according to what seems good to them, and relevant to the modern culture that we live in. So perhaps it is more pertinent than ever before to remind ourselves of God’s template for the church, and particularly God’s instructions in regards to church leadership. Because if we don’t get the pastor/teacher position right, then it’s doubtful that we will get our doctrine right either, and the church will continue it’s downward spiral into apostasy and irrelevancy that it has already succumbed to, to a large degree.
Now last week as we looked at chapter 2, Paul laid out the doctrinal reasons that women were not to take the place of authority in the church. He gave reasons from scripture, going all the way back to creation, in support of this instruction that women were not to teach, nor exercise authority over the men in the church. I said last week, and I will say it again for the benefit of those who weren’t here last week, that this is not a cultural issue, as some would try to dismiss it. But it is the prerogative of Christ, whose church it is. And the Lord could have just laid down the law and that would be it, but He supports it with two arguments that come from creation. So He is showing that this is His plan from the start. It’s not something that we can dismiss by saying that was the culture of Paul’s day. This predates that culture.
And by the way, let me add something to that discussion which I failed to say last week. Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. The Gentiles in Ephesus and the surrounding region were pagans by nature. Before they were saved they worshipped the popular pagan deities of that day. And a number of those deities were female, such as Artemis, Diana, and Aphrodite. Those religions had no problem with women as priestesses of their cults. In fact, women were often held in high esteem in those cults. And furthermore, those religions encouraged engaging in immoral acts in those temples. Now I say that, not to be scandalous, but to show that women were not a problem in the Gentile religions. So when Paul advocates that only men were to be in church leadership, he is not saying something that is in keeping with the culture, but was counter to the culture. And so that’s just one more reason that we cannot dismiss this as a culture issue.
But now in chapter 3, Paul is going to focus on the leadership of the church, and lay out the requirements for such positions. He starts with what he calls here an overseer. This is the translation of the Greek word episkopē. It could also be translated as bishop in other versions. In the book of Titus, we see that position rendered as elder, and then elder is used synonymously with overseer, or bishop. The same can be said with shepherd, or pastor, which are synonyms for overseer. For our purposes, I think we can best interpret it a pastor. Pastor is related to the word for shepherd. And so pastor, or elder, or overseer, all refer to the same position.
Notice he says in vs 1, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires [to do.]”. I think the KJV says it is a noble work that he desires. I like that translation better. Noble has in mind a sacrificial task. One that is performed for the benefit of others, rather than for one’s own benefit.
But some confusion has been brought about by this phrase; “aspires to the office of overseer.’ Some think that it encourages men to seek after such a position. And they think that is self serving and vain. Personally, I think that if a man is called by God to preach, or to be a pastor, then that calling will manifest itself in a desire to preach.
Paul said of his own call to preach in 1Cor. 9:16-17 “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for I am under compulsion; for woe is me if I do not preach the gospel. For if I do this voluntarily, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me.” So I think the idea that Paul has there is if a man is called to preach, he will have a desire to preach. But the main point to what he is saying is that the office is not one to be denigrated or looked down upon. But though it is a position of service, it is nevertheless a noble office. It is service for a greater good, for a greater purpose.
I think most of the problems with church leadership today is that many of those who claim the office are not called by God to the office. I’m not sure why people would choose this position. I don’t see reaping any great rewards on this earth for spending your life as a pastor. Unless you are a mega church pastor, or a television evangelist, I don’t think there is any real money to be made. Though there are certainly some multimillionaire television evangelists out there. But they are so far out of the norm that it’s unfair to pastors to include them in the same genre.
So why someone would be attracted to the ministry I do not know. I know I wasn’t. I grew up as a preacher’s kid, and I was told constantly growing up that my dad had prayed for two preacher boys before my brother and I were born. And so after we were born, that meant that we were destined to be preachers when we grew up. Well, though we pretended to go along with that prophecy as children, by the time we were teenagers we both were doing everything we could to prove them liars. But the strangest thing happened when we reached our middle age. We have both since become preachers. But neither of us ever sought it, in fact, we resisted that call for many years.
The bottom line though I think is that we need to recognize that a pastor is called. And I don’t mean called by a pastor search committee. I don’t have a lot of faith in those contraptions. And you don’t find any basis for them in the scripture. Paul told Titus that he was to appoint elders in every city. Titus was to make sure that the men he chose fulfilled the requirements that Paul laid out, which by the way are almost exactly the same in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. But for those who are called, it is a noble work to which he is called, and he should have a desire to fulfill that office.
I want to say something else about this word overseer. As I said, in Titus 1 Paul instructs Titus to appoint elders in every city. In Acts 14:23 we read that Paul and Barnabas did the same on their missionary journey. Acts14:23 “When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed.”
Now some have derived from these texts that the scriptures teach the necessity for a plurality of elders. So in a church, there must be at least more than one elder or pastor. And so we have today a very popular church doctrine that says there must be multiple elders, and yet usually only one person is the pastor. I think that is a misunderstanding of the text. It’s widely understood that the churches in those days were house churches. There was no mega churches, because there were no houses that could even hold a hundred people at one time. We have Bible study at my house, and I can tell you that it’s almost impossible to get more than 25 people in there. I don’t have a big house, but I’m sure it’s bigger than most of the houses of the common people in those days.
So the common sense understanding is that Paul is talking about multiple house churches in a city or region. If you used the template of a Jewish synagogue, then 10 men were required for creating a new synagogue. And so these were small, neighborhood type of assemblies in people’s homes. And so that begs the question, how many shepherds are needed to take care of two dozen sheep? This idea of having multiple elders just to satisfy someones fear of monopolistic leadership in a church, is not founded in scripture.
I like a quote I read recently from Charles Haddon Spurgeon, the great, late 19th century English preacher. Every pastor loves to quote Spurgeon, but I have yet to hear any quote this saying concerning one man ministry. He said, “Every now and then we hear some simpleton or other talking about a one man ministry, when it has been a one man ministry from the commencement of the world to present day, and whenever you try to have any other form of ministry, except that of each individual saint discharging his own ministry, and doing it thoroughly and heartily and independently and bravely in the sight of God, you very soon run upon quicksands.” So it would seem Spurgeon did not support a multiplicity of elders.
But nevertheless, people are rightly concerned about the qualifications of a pastor, and to offset such concerns, Paul lays out some stringent requirements for that office. And the primary requirement is that they are to be men whose character is above reproach. I think that as you read vs 2, you should imagine that there is a colon there after the word reproach, and then everything that follows describes how being above reproach looks.
So we read starting in vs 2, “An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 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.”
So we see that according to this list, the pastor must have a favorable testimony from two groups of people, those inside the church, and those outside. Now reproach can mean criticism, and if we were to apply that literally, then no pastor would pass the first qualification. In fact, I would suggest that criticism is part of the due process of being a pastor. But the idea of being above reproach is not speaking of criticism, which we get aplenty, but of having some moral or character failing which attracts criticism. Paul received much criticism in his ministry, but it was ill founded and he was able to appeal to those who knew his character as being above reproach.
Now there are 14 or so areas in which a pastor is to be above reproach as stated in the first 7 verses. I am not going to spend a lot of time explaining each one, or we would be here all day. I think most are pretty explanatory. But notice that the word perfect is missing from this list. Thank God for that. We need to remember that pastors are not perfect, though they should be striving for perfection.
The first qualification is one that is contentious today: “the husband of one wife.” That’s impossible to do if you are a woman pastor. But then again, it’s easy to dismiss this as another example of Paul’s male chauvinism. But aside from the discussion of male and female roles which we had last week, it means that the pastor is to be a one woman man. His wife is to be held in honor. He is not a womanizer. I think you can make the argument that he is not to have remarried in the case of divorce. The exception to that would be if his previous wife died. Paul said in 1Cor. 7:39 “A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” And I think it’s obvious that the same would be true of a man whose wife had died, as long as he marries a Christian.
Another misunderstanding that has arisen from this is that a pastor must be married. He must have one wife. I think that is a wrong interpretation of this text. Paul himself was not married and he served as a pastor. We have no record that Timothy was married. Jesus wasn’t married. And He is the head Shepherd of the church. So I don’t think that means that a pastor must be married. However, I will say that being married is a safeguard against temptation. And so a single pastor must take extra precautions to make sure he is above reproach.
The pastor is to be temperate. We live in a temperate climate. That means mild. Not too hot and not too cold. So we understand what Paul is saying; the pastor is not to be a hot head. It doesn’t mean he’s supposed to be so meek and mild that he can’t blow his nose. But not a hot head. Level headed.
Prudent is related to that. It means wise, but not so much like wise in the typical way we think of it, like having a high IQ, but judicious, able to make good, sound decisions. Having common sense.
The next characteristic is respectable, which means of good repute, honest, trustworthy. After that we read, hospitable. Many years ago I used to be a part of the hospitality business. That was a term used by the hotel and restaurant business. So to be hospitable is someone who is welcoming, who is congenial, helpful in regards to the needs of others.
The last one in vs 2, is one that we probably usually think of first; able to teach. That qualification is not usually applied to those churches who believe in a multiplicity of elders. Most elders in those churches are not qualified to teach, and not able to teach, at least beyond a rudimentary level. But having the ability or gift to teach is essential for a pastor/teacher. And I believe it is a gift, though a gift that can be improved upon and practiced to become better at it. But irregardless, notice that it’s not at the top of the list, but somewhere in the middle. It’s important, but it’s not the most important thing.
In vs 3 we find the next group of qualifications. Vs 3 “not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.” Not addicted to wine is also the same qualification that is listed in Titus for overseers. I would go so far as to say that wine or alcohol should be off limits for a pastor. And I say that as someone who used to drink every day. For me it wasn’t wine, it was Coors Lite. But the Holy Spirit says not addicted to wine. That gives you enough freedom to hang yourself. Because I can tell you that if the pastor is a wine drinker, or likes his beer, he is going to have a real disadvantage when it comes to being above reproach in his conduct. Solomon said in Prov. 20:1 “Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler, And whoever is intoxicated by it is not wise.”
Then the next qualification is probably deliberately added after to addicted to wine; not pugnacious. That means a brawler, the same thing that Solomon said about strong drink. Pugnacious means looking for a fight. Some men don’t need alcohol to look for a fight. But either way, only a fool looks for a fight. I made that mistake a few times when I was younger, and I finally met someone who was willing to give me one, and it almost cost me my life. God doesn’t need us to fight with physical means. We are to fight with spiritual means. Eph 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual [forces] of wickedness in the heavenly [places.]”
And not being pugnacious is followed by peaceable. Rather than being someone who is looking for a fight, he is to be the one who is peaceable. He is a peacemaker. Jesus said in Matt. 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” We should be men who tell others how to make peace with God and with their fellow man.
The last one of vs 3, is free from the love of money. Paul said in 1Tim. 6:10 “For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Notice that it does not say that it is wrong for the pastor to have money, or even to appreciate money. In fact, he goes on to say later in this passage that he is to govern his household well. That indicates he uses his money wisely. But it is a love for money and a longing for money that causes ruin. And I will admit that is a hard adage to accept. Because everyone has a natural tendency to want money. The more you have the more you want, and the less you have the more you want. But a desire for money that supersedes what you know is right and proper, a desire that says whatever it takes I will do it, that attitude is what causes a person to wander away from the faith, and causes grief in their life. We all have to be on guard against that desire. Jesus said “you cannot serve God and money.”
In vs 4 and 5 we see that principle of managing his household that I spoke of earlier. “He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?),” I think as we consider the entire context of both verses, this is not simply speaking of the pastor’s role in raising his children, but is speaking of the complete task of managing his house. As the father of the house, he is a loyal and loving husband to his wife, a father who disciplines his children with dignity, not overbearing, but firm and with love for his family, and as a provider and a manager of his household affairs.
The church is not a little like a family, and though the pastor’s primary job is preaching and teaching, yet he is also a manager of the house of God. And so the way he manages his home is a good indication of how he will manage the church. Not even the pastor can make someone come to faith in Christ, even if they are his own children. When they come of age, they will be responsible for their faith or lack of it. But he should be able to keep his children under control and in submission to his rule. The key there is not ruling with an iron fist that provokes a child to rebel.
As a general rule to all fathers, Paul says in Eph. 6:4 “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” To do both well is to be able to balance love and discipline in the same way that is illustrated by God the Father towards us. And the pastor is to be a good example of that balance.
The last of the “insider” qualifications is found in vs 6, “[and] not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.” Understand that a new convert does not indicate the physical age of the pastor. However, it does indicate his spiritual age. Paul says to Timothy later in chapter 5 vs 22 “Do not lay hands upon anyone [too] hastily and thereby share [responsibility for] the sins of others; keep yourself free from sin.” The idea is that a new convert must have a time of testing, of proving, which brings about maturity and a deeper faith.
A position of leadership can sometimes work against a person by their pride. And we know that pride goes before a fall. James said in James 3:1 “Let not many [of you] become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” With that greater responsibility comes a great need for spiritual maturity. And perhaps spiritual maturity is tied to some degree to physical maturity. Age is not a prerequisite, but perhaps it is a help.
Finally, we come to the last qualification, which is regarding those outside the church. He says in vs 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.” Perhaps this is one of the most difficult qualifications of the pastor. Those outside of the church are the world, and the world is at enmity with God. So to be above reproach and to have a good reputation with the world is difficult at best. Jesus said if they hated me, they will hate you.
So I think the answer must be that we are above reproach “in the sight of God.” I know I have to conduct myself in such a way as to please God, and in so doing, I know that I am doing right in regards to man. I have to love my neighbor, though my neighbor may not love me, nor be deserving of my favor. I have to love my enemies, though they seek my hurt. I cannot treat my neighbor in such a way as to make a contradiction of my faith.
Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, [Mat 5:43-48 “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR and hate your enemy.’ “But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for He causes His sun to rise on [the] evil and [the] good, and sends rain on [the] righteous and [the] unrighteous. “For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? “If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing [than others?] Do not even the Gentiles do the same? “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Well, I started off by saying that the requirements that Paul laid out for the pastor did not include being perfect. And now I end up with the requirement of Jesus that we are to be perfect. But I can’t help but point out that admonition of Christ is not to pastors, but to all who are the children of God. The pastor, however, is to be an example to the church. We are to treat others like we would like to be treated. And pastors even more so are beholden to that rule. On that note, I would say in closing, pray for your pastors. It’s easy to criticize. They are on a stage and say a lot of words, and it’s possible to pick apart any pastor and find fault with him. But pray for him, and realize that he is called to this task that is greater than his ability. And I would add, if you are visiting today, and you recognize that your pastor of your home church is in flagrant disregard of these qualifications, then I would suggest you leave that church and find another which is in line with these qualifications. Don’t try to change the pastor, rather change your church. Let God take care of the pastor. He will receive a stricter judgment from the Lord.