1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. – 1 Timothy 3:1-13 ESV
Timothy was going to need assistance. Attempting to shepherd even a relatively small congregation of new believers was not going to be easy, especially in an environment like Ephesus. So, Paul encouraged Timothy to find qualified men to assist him in his oversight of the church. It would be impossible for one man to minister to all the needs within the body of Christ and, with the Judaizers promoting their legalistic adherence to the Mosaic Law, Timothy was going to need allies in the fight of faith.
That’s why Paul recommended that Timothy develop a recruitment strategy for possible “overseers.” The Greek word Paul uses is episkopē and he seems to use it almost synonymously with another Greek word, presbuteros, which typically gets translated “elder.”
Both words convey the idea of someone with authority for and responsibility over the spiritual well-being of the flock of God. Paul tells Timothy that it is a good thing if a man aspires to his position. He states, “If someone aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position” (1 Timothy 3:1 NLT).
The Greek word he uses is oregō, which means “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.” But, like most Greek words, oregō had another and somewhat darker meaning as well: “to give one’s self up to the love of money.” In fact, Paul uses this secondary meaning in chapter 6 when talking about an inordinate and unhealthy attraction to money.
For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows. – 1 Timothy 6:10 NLT
Paul declared that it was proper and appropriate for a man to aspire to be a leader in the church, but not for what he can get out of it. And the apostle Peter echoed that sentiment.
I urge the elders among you: Give a shepherd’s care to God’s flock among you, exercising oversight not merely as a duty but willingly under God’s direction, not for shameful profit but eagerly. – 1 Peter 5:1-2 NLT
Leadership within the local body of Christ was never meant to be a means for getting rich or acquiring power. That’s why Peter and Paul compared the role of an overseer to that of a shepherd. It was to be a selfless and sacrificial role modeled after the life of Jesus. And it seems that Paul’s emphasis was less on the role or job description than on the qualities of the kind of man who would be recognized to fill it.
Paul does not go into great detail on the job description of an elder. Instead. he points out the required character qualities to be considered for the position. And I would argue that these qualities should be the aspiration of every God-fearing, Christ-following man in the church today.
We all aspire to something. We each have goals and ambitions to which we dedicate our time, talents, and energies. For some of us, having a successful career is our greatest ambition and it ends up impacting our entire lives, as we spend every waking moment attempting to bring it about. A few men have legitimate and realistic aspirations for making a name for themselves in the competitive world of sports. Then there are those who simply aspire to be good employees, fathers, husbands, friends, and members of the community. But Paul would encourage us to have a different aspiration; to aspire to something of a slightly higher nature. But it is a job with few perks, a lot of responsibilities, high expectations, no income, a certain degree of anonymity, and some pretty lofty hiring guidelines.
In the book of Acts, we have recorded a meeting between Paul and the elders from the church in Ephesus. He provided these men with a rather stern warning.
So guard yourselves and God’s people. Feed and shepherd God’s flock–his church, purchased with his own blood – over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you as elders. – Acts 20:28 NLT
Elders had a high calling and a lofty responsibility to guard both themselves and the people of God. Therefore, they had to be godly men of strong character and impeccable morals. They didn’t have to be perfect, but they did have to strive to be blameless and above reproach in every area of their lives.
It’s interesting that the characteristics that Paul lists cover just about every area of a man’s life. An elder had to be a man free from compartmentalization in his life. He could not afford to have any areas of his life that he tried to keep hidden from the flock. His home life was just as important as his church life. Every one of the things that Paul lists would have been easy to assess and ascertain by anyone in the church. The qualities Paul lays out are visible and external, open for anyone and everyone to see and evaluate. But they reflect an inner character that flows out into every area of life. The kind of men who were to be considered for leadership were those whose hearts were continually being transformed by God. They were men who were living under the control of and in the power provided by the Holy Spirit.
But shouldn’t the qualities and characteristics Paul outlines be the aspiration of every man? Why wouldn’t every man of God aspire to live the kind of life Paul describes, whether he ever gets appointed as an elder or not? The church needs men who are above reproach, faithful to their wives, self-controlled, wise, with good reputations, hospitable, moderate in all things, gentle in spirit, spiritual leaders in their homes, and respected in their communities. The local church should be filled to the brim with men who are viable candidates for eldership. Remember, Paul told Timothy that if a man aspires to be an elder, he desires an honorable position. To aspire is “to stretch one’s self out in order to touch or to grasp something, to reach after or desire something.” What we should desire as men is not the role or responsibility, but the character of an elder. The position is honorable because the men who occupy it are honorable. Their character is Christ-like and holy. They are not perfect, but they are men who are willingly and regularly being perfected by God. The church needs more men like that today.
But Paul doesn’t stop with overseers; he also describes the role of a deacon (diakonos). This was a different role within the local body of Christ that was more service-oriented. These men were intended to serve alongside the elders/overseers so that the spiritual and physical needs of the congregation were effectively met. While Paul does not provide a detailed description of the day-to-day functions of a deacon, he does make it clear that the requirements to be considered for the position were virtually the same as that of an overseer.
The roles may have been different but the character requirements were almost identical. While it might be tempting to view the role of deacon as less significant than that of an elder, Paul insists that Timothy not take it lightly.
Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons. – 1 Timothy 3:10 NLT
The criterion for consideration was no less stringent or demanding. These men also had to be spiritually and morally qualified to serve. There was no dumbing down of the standards or lowering of the bar of expectations. Their character was to be above reproach and their marriages were to reflect the effectiveness of their servant leadership. If they couldn’t manage their own homes well, how could they be expected to minister to the body of Christ?
Paul wanted Timothy to surround himself with godly men who would help him lead and love the people of God. Paul knew there would be a time when Timothy had to leave Ephesus and go to the next city where he would minister to yet another congregation. So, Timothy needed to prepare for that moment by finding the right men to shepherd the flock of God in his absence. The church needed leaders. The body of Christ needed overseers and deacons who serve as “examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3 NLT). The future of the church was dependent upon godly men whom God would raise up and place in the role of undershepherds to His flock.
In his letter to the church at Ephesus, Paul described the unique nature of God’s divine strategy for the health and well-being of the church. God had devised an assortment of roles within the local body of Christ designed to promote spiritual maturity and effective ministry.
Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. – Ephesians 4:11-14 NLT
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.