watch the video for this sermon here.
So, for the
last few weeks we have done a series on prayer. Let me encourage you to
continue to pray through the Psalms. Look up the context of what they are
talking about, follow the themes, see how they apply. We are actually going to
come back to them later in the year. But for now, remember the prayer of a righteous
person is effective, prayer is our best weapon against evil, and prayer can
have great healing power if you call out to God in need. We especially need you
to pray as we vote in a few weeks on some new elders and deacons.
We want to
put on some new elders, and we will be advertising our candidates from next
week, for a few weeks. Just before we go through this process I want to preach
on the most influential passage on this topic in the whole Bible, 1 Timothy
3:1-7. We are going to examine this passage in some detail.
way of appointing elders is to elect elders through a duly called meeting of
the membership. All members get to vote, it is the Baptist belief that Christ
appoints the leaders of the Church through his body, the membership, who seek
his will on the matter and any member can nominate a qualified man for the
eldership. So, we need to ask the question: What is a qualified man? Well our
constitution outlines the guidelines, and if you look at our constitution it
says that “The appointment of Elders shall take place in the following manner
and have the qualifications as stated in 1 Timothy 3:1-7.” So, what are these
Task (v.1) – Paul
begins by saying, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the
office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” This is an interesting
way for Paul to introduce this topic. Why does he address it this way? Well, there
is likely are few reasons.
To be an
elder in the Church in the 1st century could be dangerous, thankless
and hard work. The leaders of the Church were often targeted by officials and
Jewish opponents. We know for a fact that the Church in Ephesus, where Timothy
happens to be, came under serious attack from the pagan society around it.
You can read
about this in Acts, the population of Ephesus is freaked out that their
goddess, Artemis, is under threat by the spread of Christianity. Acts 19:27 – “27
And there is danger not only that this trade of ours may come into disrepute
but also that the temple of the great goddess Artemis may be counted as
nothing, and that she may even be deposed from her magnificence, she whom all
Asia and the world worship.”
served by young female priests, who danced before the congregation in their worship.
How ironic that modern churches do the same thing today, when the spread of
Christianity was putting a stop to this in the 1st century?
Ephesians turned on the Christians because Christianity was putting a stop to
the worship of their idol. And this made Christians, and especially their
leaders, unpopular in Ephesus at this time.
So, Paul is
encouraging the men by saying to desire to be an overseer is a good thing, a noble
thing. The word for “overseer” is episkopos, which is also translated bishop. In
the Bible, Bishops oversaw a single church, not a collection of churches.
overseer, biblically, is synonymous with elder, “presbyteros”. We know this for
several reasons, but especially because Paul makes no distinction between them
in Acts 20, or in this letter, where we read in 1 Timothy 5:17-20 –
“17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy
of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For
the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,”
and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an
elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who
persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand
rule, or lead, or preside over the Church are the equivalent of those who oversee
or manage a church. Elders are overseers.
This is a position
in the church that men should aspire to. But it is not just a position, it is a
task. It is a role. It is a job. The men who become overseers, need to oversee
the doctrine, the spiritual state of their people, and guard the flock from
false teachings and more.
It is not an
easy role still. It can be a thankless role still. But it is a noble task and
men should aspire to this noble task, whilst thoroughly considering the weight
of what they aspire to.
should these men be like?
Reproach (vv.2) – “Above
Reproach” – It is important for a man to be above reproach, because if
he has seriously given himself over to sin, this will diminish his authority. Paul’s
intention is not that an elder be perfect, but that he is noble in how he
reproach means that he does not live in a way that he can easily be accused of gross
sin, and especially deservedly so. Being innocent does not mean you will not be
accused. Sometimes good men are accused of things they did not do. But in a lot
of instances men are accused of one bad thing, because they were doing
something else shady that makes it easier for them to be attacked, to be
“brought into reproach”.
I like to
watch cop shows from time to time, and it is remarkable how many people find
themselves suspects of one crime, because they were doing something else wrong,
and were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
happen to an innocent and decent person, but it is much more likely to happen
to someone who lives foolishly.
evaluate if someone is blameless by asking questions like this:
meet with women alone, often? Does he have lots of female friends, or really any female
friends that he spends time with without his wife?
wife being ok with this does not make it ok. It is not ok.
should focus on building friendships with men, and women with women. When you
are single it is a bit different because you need to be evaluating potential
spouses, but not heaps different. And when you get married, those opposite sex
friendships need to be reframed through your wife or husband, or cut away
to put this is: does the potential elder have healthy boundaries with women?
hang out in seedy places, alone, not with the intention of evangelising. And if he is
evangelising, does he take a partner?
pass a background check? If he has a rough background, have you got years of a changed behaviour
backed up with character witnesses?
way he runs his business, manages his office, lead his employees, does his work, bring disrepute
on himself or the Church?
wife respect him and follow his lead?
For those already
in eldership, you could ask the same questions, plus some others:
In a church
context: Does he handle the money in secret, keeping the money only in the
hands of his own family, and never disclosing how much has come in? Or even if
he does disclose it, how can you trust him if no one else sees it?
stack the eldership or leadership with his family, friends and people who will
not necessarily challenge him in the right way?
examples could be given to evaluate this, but let me just comment on something.
There is a big push in the Baptist Churches to hire women to work as pastors,
etc, alongside of male pastors. This push comes from our society, not from any
of the Scriptures.
evangelical feminists say that men should be spending more time with their
female staff, because if they don’t this makes the women feel left out of the
this: is a man who is alone with a women in the office for long hours of the
day above reproach? Practical question. Is he?
To those of
you who work in the secular work force: how often do you see married men or
women flirting with the opposite sex? How often do you see worse? It is not
just about purity either. How easy would it be for that man to be accused, and
how hard would it be to defend himself?
Churches are asking men and women to work in a way that fails this simple
principle: above reproach. Wise Church leaders don’t allow this situation to
happen. Modern churches are filled with these encounters, which means they are
not…wise. Most adultery happens in the workforce[i].
This sort of
thinking needs to be called out. Call me old fashioned, cause “I art.”
I think a
man who aspires to eldership should have already proven himself in this arena,
in a reasonable way.
Of One Wife (v.2) – An
elder must be “the husband of one wife…” This can also be
translated, “a man of one woman”, or “a man of one wife”.
In the Bible’s eyes these two statements are synonymous, a man was a husband, a
woman was a wife, except in rare or special circumstances. Today’s society encourages
people to delay marriage for qualifications or financial reasons, or because
people are too comfortable at home, or whatever. But things were not this way
for believers in most centuries. So, what does this mean?
overseer must be…the man…” The first thing we see that it is ok for an overseer to be a single woman
with a psych degree and a heart for people? Nope, I mean it is ok to for the
overseer to be a woman with a real heart for ministry and teaching? Nope, it
says an overseer must be a man.
the leadership of many modern churches you would think that a lot of them can’t
read, but they can, they just explain this away as “cultural.” Even though we
noted before that the Ephesian church had female priests, and so was the
culture in many pagan contexts. But as we know, Paul said “It is not ok for a
woman to teach a man or assume authority, until about the 20th
century then it is totally fine.”
says overseers being a man is a must, he says not long before this,
“11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man;
rather, she is to remain quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve; 14 and
Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”
need to spend much more time on this, because our Church has stayed solid on
this for many years. But I do want to observe a couple of things,
after forbidding women to teach, Paul then excludes most men from the role as
well. It is not as though every man should be a teacher in the Church. Most men
will never be qualified.
I think it
is interesting that John Calvin says, “It is not right to put such a heavy
burden as eldership on the shoulders of a woman.” In all my experience I have
seen nothing to prove him wrong, and I would add, this is true of a lot of men
But he is to
not just be a man, but a husband of one woman.
Woman Man - “must be…the man of one woman.” What does Paul mean by this? The
husband of one wife? At first this might seem pretty simple, until you see all
the different ways people understand it.
Polygamy – Some people think this verse is just
referring to excluding polygamy. Or primarily about this. The argument being, that
a Christian elder should set the example for their congregation and not have
common in Jewish and Eastern circles in the time of Paul. A hang over from the
Old Testament practice and eastern custom.
and Romans tended to frown on polygamy in theory, but do it in practice. There
was a saying at the time “that every man should have a mistress for his
entertainment, a concubine for his sexual pleasure, and a wife to bear his legitimate
So, this was
a common issue for the early church to deal with. It still is in places like
Africa and the Middle East.
To say this
is simply commenting on polygamy is a valid approach, and that is John Calvin’s
reading. It would be fair to say that this interpretation is a given for any
Christian man, let alone an elder. No Christian man should have a wife and a
mistress, and if anyone does be warned the Lord is coming for you.
Been Divorced/Only had one wife – Some people take it to mean you have only ever had one wife.
There are some variations of this.
say if you have been divorced for any reason, you are disqualified. In Paul’s
day there would have been many Jewish and Greek elders who were divorced,
because divorce was easy to do. In this case, he would be saying, don’t allow
these men to be overseers. We need to turn this ship around.
Some would modify
this and say, if you have been divorced for scriptural reasons then this is
different. Which is fair, because Jesus allows for divorce and remarriage for
adultery, which I would say includes spouses who deny their partner sex. This
is a form of adultery, or marital unfaithfulness. Abandonment is another
passage does not use the word divorce, and if you say no to 100% of men who have
had more than one wife because you want to be fiercely literal, this will
include men whose wives have passed away and who remarry.
could not have intended, and yet the Church once did practice this, though I
doubt many of us here agree with this.
I think it
is important to note that Paul wrote this in a time where most divorces were
initiated by men, and very easily. A man who divorced his wife was abandoning
her in a world that would often not care for her. This day it is almost the
opposite, most divorces are initiated by women. Many good men are taken down by
bad women with the system working against them, which is something to consider.
still disqualifies them, but I think you’d need to evaluate that on a case by
Married – Another
way to take this passage is that Paul is saying elders must be family men, they
must be married. Of course, they should not be polygamist, they should not be
divorcing for ungodly reasons, but what Paul is looking for is primarily a head
of a household. This makes the most sense, because:
is the household of God, and the principles of leadership are similar. Neither
the Church or the family are a business, and should not be run like one. They both
need the deft and grace of a fatherly hand and a man who knows how to shepherd
children and a wife.
this point, Paul goes on to say, “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?”
it for me, Paul wants an overseer to be a man who has proven he can manage a
church, because he can manage his home.
This kind of
puts a bottom floor for the age of an overseer, they need to have been married
long enough to have kids whose way of life can be observed. Elders should be
men in the prime of their lives with kids, or older.
world tells young men they are in their prime in their twenties, but the
ancient world noted a man was not in his prime until his mid-thirties.
that a man was in his prime from his mid-30’s until his 50’s. The Jews, and
Paul was a Jew remember, would have had a similar view. Elders would have been
selected from this group and older.
“teknon” means child. Children, he has kids running around the home, but they
are good kids. They are old enough for you to see his stamp of authority on
object, but Paul was not married, Jesus was not married. To which I respond: neither
of them were elders.
Paul was a
missionary and the calls on a missionary’s life are very different to the
planted life of an elder in a local church.
the Lord of all. He was not going to marry.
I think it
is good for single men to get involved in ministry, get some experience
leading, discipling, etc. But how can you evaluate a man’s ability to manage a
household if he doesn’t have one? To aspire to be an elder he needs to start a
all together, I would say Paul is looking for a family man, with one wife who
manages his household well, as God would intend, and if he has been divorced it
needs to be for godly reasons.
To Excess (v.2-3) – He
also needs to be a moral man who is not given to excess, “2 Therefore an
overseer must be…sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able
to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a
lover of money.”
– is he a serious
“Self-control” – Does he control himself well, or
is he given instability.
– Can you respect
him, even if you don’t always agree with him?
– Does he open his
home to others? Share what he has with others?
teach” – Can he
explain the Bible? Note, we saw before in 1 Timothy 5:17 that there are elders
who teach and those who don’t, “17 Let the elders who rule well be
considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and
I think the
way to understand this is that all elders must be able to explain the word of
God if called upon to do so, but not all need to be gifted to teach and
maintain the teaching of the church.
As one of my
lecturers said, every elder needs to be meditating and studying the word in
such a way that if they were called upon to preach they could draw from their
notes and explain a passage.
drunkard” – He’s
not a hero at mixing drinks, can drink while remaining sober, and is not ruled
by the drink.
violent or quarrelsome, but gentle” – He knows how to be angry and control it. He does not abuse
his wife or start pub fights. He controls his aggression.
lover of money” –
He is not a greedy swindler given over to the god of mammon. He lives a
moderate life, and this includes his finances.
all this, he is a noble man of good character, who is respectable and not just
in it for the cash.
The Faith (vv.6) –
He needs to be mature in the faith, “6 He must not be a recent convert,
or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the
devil.” Putting someone who is too new to the faith in a position of
responsibility will cause them to become proud, but also will put them in
danger of attacks they are not ready to withstand.
Reputation (vv.7) – He
needs to have a good reputation in the community, “7 Moreover, he must be
well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a
snare of the devil.” This one is interesting, because if the leaders of
the Church are going to be persecuted, their character will come under attack
from outsiders. If the leaders are going to challenge the idols of the day,
their character will come under attack.
I think what
Paul means is this, though people attack the man, criticize the man, slander
the man, try to say he is all sorts of bad things, they can’t find any dirt on
him. They can observe he is a man of principle, even if they hate his
Even a lot
of Israel Folau’s haters said he was a kind and decent player, good to the men
on his team, no matter their background, for example.
characteristic in church history from time to time actually converted the
persecutors of Christians. Because though people hated their views, they could
not fault the sincerity with which those believers held them.
But if the
outsiders can say they got drunk with the elder and saw him hitting on the
barmaid, while he pretends to be Christian on Sunday, then he does not have a
good reputation with outsiders, and he is in danger of being overcome by the
So, this one
is not that hard to reconcile with a persecuted or opposed church as it
– So how do we apply
this? Simple, let’s meditate on this passage and consider this passage as we
seek to nominate and elect elders.
– He who desires to
be an overseer desires a noble task, let’s pray that we put in place noble men.
Men who know they are not perfect, but are seeking to continue to grow in the
Lord. Men who are anointed with the presence of the Holy Spirit and wisdom.