Even though Paul writes Timothy a letter chock-full of advice and direction, there are three specific truth-sayings Paul wants his young protégé to remember. We’ve now come to the second of the three trustworthy statements Paul highlights to Timothy.
1 Timothy 3:1
This saying is trustworthy:
“If anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work.”
Knowing what an overseer does will help us understand the qualifications God has for the office and why Paul refers to the position as a noble work.
The Greek word for overseer carries the connotation both of inspecting and guarding, along with the general shepherding of the church’s activities. Additionally, it’s important to note that Paul says being an overseer is, in fact, work. A noble work, for sure; however, there is an expectation that the person in this office will be putting in effort. Becoming an overseer isn’t a pinnacle one climbs to and then expects others to serve him; instead, when he achieves the title of overseer, he needs to understand that it’s time to roll up his sleeves and do the noble work.
As such, it is of the utmost importance that the right person be selected for the job. We see it all time in the businesses world – someone gets promoted to a level of responsibility they were not prepared for, and their lack of leadership skills then wreaks havoc on the company. The wrong person in leadership, even for a short time, can inflict significant, lasting damage to an organization. To guard against a leadership disaster in the Ephesian church, Paul provides Timothy with a first-level checklist in order to considered someone for the overseer job:
1 Timothy 3:2-5
An overseer, therefore, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, self-controlled, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an able teacher…
It’s easy to gloss over a list like this, thinking “Yeah, we should only have good Christians fill this role” and then move along to other parts of Paul’s letter. However, I don’t believe Paul haphazardly listed these qualities. A simple description of each characteristic helps us understand why we need to see these qualities in our church leaders:
above reproach – Could he be accused of wrong doing or misconduct against others?
husband of one wife – Paul had previously explained to the Ephesians that the marriage relationship is the highest earthly example of the relationship between Christ and the church. As such, an overseer must not be polygamous, and if he has been widowed or divorced, those circumstances must be considered.
self-controlled – Is he sober-minded and temperate in his action?
sensible – Does he have a safe/sound mind, can he balance the range of emotions and passions?
respectable – When dealing with himself or others, is he well arranged, orderly, modest?
hospitable – Is he generous and welcoming toward guests?
able teacher – Does he understand God well enough that he can skillfully instruct others, through both verbal teaching and his own personal example?
A deficit in any one of these areas will hinder the overseer’s ability to approach people from God’s perspective. As such, selecting the right individual is of paramount importance. God doesn’t take this position lightly, and neither should we.