AN EXPOSITION OF 1 TIMOTHY 3:1-7
The world has an idea of what constitutes the perfect pastor. Generally speaking, the thinking is along the following lines.
The Perfect Pastor preaches exactly 10 minutes. He condemns sin roundly, but never hurts anyone’s feelings. He works from 8 a.m. until midnight, and is also the church janitor.
The Perfect Pastor makes $40 a week, wears good clothes, drives a good car, buys good books, and donates $30 a week to the church. He is 29 years old and has 40 years’ worth of experience. Above all, he is handsome.
The Perfect Pastor has a burning desire to work with teenagers, and he spends most of his time with the senior citizens. He smiles all the time with a straight face because he has a sense of humor that keeps him seriously dedicated to his church. He makes 15 home visits a day and is always in his office to be handy when needed.
The Perfect Pastor always has time for church meetings and all of its committees, never missing the meeting of any church organization. And he is always busy evangelizing the unchurched.
Well, as the world has its ideas about The Perfect Pastor, so does the Lord. The ideal Biblical Pastor is characterized in Paul’s First letter to Timothy, who was left to minister in Ephesus.
In the early days of the Church, when the persecution was the strongest, men needed encouragement to assume this holy office, and so Paul wrote to say in 1 Timothy 3:1:
1 If a man desire the office of a bishop [Gk. episkopes, overseer], he desireth a good work.
The overarching primary factors which must temper a person’s desire for the office of bishop, pastor, or elder, are the Biblical qualifications. The qualifications are specific, and unchangeable with time.
2 A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach
A Bishop (Elder, Pastor) must be blameless, which means a man must be irreproachable by those in the church in the following areas.
The first area addressed is the marital status. The Bishop (Elder, Pastor) is to be the husband of one wife, or, one woman. Because marriage is designed to illustrate the relationship between Christ and the Church, a Bishop must be the husband of one wife, or faithful to his wife. Some believe this is a prohibition against being a polygamist. However, polygamy was never an option in the Christian church, so this is probably not what the apostle had in mind. In modern society, where divorce is frequent and repetitive, this Royal Prohibition would be against serial marriages, which is simply another form of polygamy, or multiplying wives. Another understanding is that a man must be a one wife kind of man, the kind of man who is faithful to one woman. He must be loyal to his spouse. He must not be engaged in adultery.
Having addressed the marital status of the Bishop, Paul proceeds to speak about the personal habits of those who are to lead the local Church.
The Bishop must be vigilant, or temperate. A man who is intemperate in any area has a major character flaw, which is not to be condoned by the Church in its leaders. The Church does not need an individual who cannot control their spending habits, emotional outbursts, or need to dominate.
The Bishop must be sober, meaning a man must be of sound mind and judgment. Many decisions must be made by leadership, and for good reason. So many ministries have been destroyed by leaders overreaching in building projects, or excessive budgeting.
The Bishop must be a man of good behavior. This means a man is to be orderly in his life, habits, and work. An elder is to display an outward beauty of countenance. There must be propriety in dress and conduct. God is interested in the things we wear as per 1 Timothy 2:9, and here, in 1 Timothy 3:2.
The Bishop must be a person given to hospitality. Despite lack of personal resources, the heart of the Bishop must always be ready to receive strangers. This is the spiritual gift of hospitality.
The Bishop must be a man apt to teach, or able to teach. The reference here is to the ability to provide a good and comprehensive summary of the biblical faith. An elder should have a thorough knowledge of Bible doctrine. “The person who disparages a comprehensive knowledge of the Christian doctrine is only disparaging that things that the apostles affirm are essential, and they are particularly essential for the elder who has responsibility of oversight” (S. Lewis Johnson).
3 Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;
The Bishop must be a person Not given to wine. This means that a Bishop is not to be addicted to wine. Drunkenness is forbidden. Having an alcoholic for a spiritual leader is unthinkable. “And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).
The Bishop is to be no striker. He must not be physically violent. I had a pastor in Pennsylvania tell me how he pressed a mouthy deacon up against the wall of a sanctuary one day after a heated discussion. Paul would not have approved of that behavior.
The Bishop must not be greedy of filthy lucre, meaning not fond of questionable gain. While the laborer is worthy of being rewarded for his labor, money must not be the motive for ministry.
The Bishop must be patient, meaning a man must be peaceable. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
The Bishop must not be a brawler, or one who argues needlessly. There are certain personalities that love to debate. The more they debate, the better they become at sharpening their arguments, and the prouder they tend to be. Knowledge puffs up (1 Cor. 8:1). True love edifies.
The Bishop is not to be covetous, or a lover of money. Money is NOT the root of all evil, but the LOVE of money is. “For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows” (1 Tim. 6:10).
4 One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;
The Bishop must be able to control his own family. Children are to be in subjection to their parents, especially the children of the elders.
5 (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?)
A good father will rule in love over his household, not in fear or domination.
6 Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.
The Bishop must not be a novice, or, literally, a newly united convert to the Christian faith. It takes time to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. Even though Paul began to preach Christ soon after his conversion, the Lord took him aside to instruct him more fully. Perhaps Paul looked back on his own experience to remember the temptation to pride at being unduly exalted.
It has been said that, “Someone who is wrapped up in himself, makes a mighty small parcel.”
7 Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
The Bishop must have a good general report by those outside the Church lest he fall into reproach, bringing shame to God’s people, and become ensnared by the Devil. Notice though, that while the Devil can ensnare spiritual leaders, he is still under God’s sovereign control. Satan is used by God to exercise certain disciplinary acts against sins, such as blaspheme, and immorality.
Usually, the disciplinary action involves either the process of dying, or death itself. The sins of blaspheme and blatant immortality brought individuals under the sin unto death.
Blaspheme. “Of whom is Hymenaeus and Alexander; whom I have delivered unto Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme” (1 Tim. 1:20).
Immorality. “It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. 2 And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. 3 For I verily, as absent in body, but present in spirit, have judged already, as though I were present, concerning him that hath so done this deed, 4 In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, 5 To deliver such an one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:1-5).
The conclusion is that God calls and prepares men to pastor His people. The Church has a holy responsibility to recognize those whom God has sent, and listen to what they have to say in as far as they remain doctrinally sound, and Biblically qualified to lead.