This exercise is a continuation of a series we started at Grace with our leadership while I served as interim there. For those who are not pastors or deacons, but who lead in some capacity in any arena of life, these books are a tremendous resource in Scripture. I encourage all of those who would be called leaders or who oversee to take advantage of these notes geared specifically toward leadership or roles with much responsibility.
1 Timothy 3
Here, overseer is synonymous with elder, bishop, and what we refer to as a pastor. Paul is writing to Timothy who is serving in the capacity of an elder of the churches in Ephesus. Paul himself is serving in a pastoral role because he is giving specific instructions from God’s word in application to the church and to other elders or pastors of the church. Paul writes that if anyone aspires to be an overseer, he desires a noble work. There are two things we learn about the pastoral office. First, it is a noble office for the one who desires to pursue it. Second, it is work of labor for the one who holds that office. In fact, for the one who holds that office, it is his labor before the Lord on this earth.
Furthermore, God has given the office to serve a purpose. God has given a job-description in Scripture for those who would serve as pastors (elders, bishops, or overseers). No matter our place of service, we ought to strive to fulfill the duties of our place of service in a way that honors God, which means biblically, not out of compulsion or according to our own preference. Chances are, like we read here, whatever position we occupy in God’s kingdom, God has given a desire for us to fill that role or to perform the duties of that role. What role does a biblical pastor have?
- Acts 6:1-6; In Acts 6, the apostles are preaching and praying for people and a complaint arises. It is written that it would not be right for them to neglect the ministry of the word in order to wait on tables. The word used to describe waiting on tables is διακονια (deacon), which means serve or servant. Seven men were selected to perform these other ministerial needs so that the apostles would not sin by neglecting the ministry that God had called them to. The ministry of the word is also characterized as διακονια. In 1 Peter 5:1, Peter clarifies that he, an apostle, performed the function of an elder or pastor. So, pastors are to be primarily concerned with the ministry of the word and with prayer, not neglecting it to perform other ministry tasks. They are to do what God has called them to do without getting distracted.
- 1 Peter 5:1-4; Peter further describes the role of a pastor as one who shepherds God’s flock without greed and without lording any authority over those entrusted to him. The primary means of shepherding must be the ministry of the word.
- Ephesians 4:12; The pastor is to equip the saints for the work of ministry so that the body of Christ might be built up in unity and knowledge, growing into maturity with a stature measured by Christ’s fullness.
- Acts 20:27-28; The pastor is to declare the whole plan of God (some translations say feed or care for) and to be on guard for themselves and for the flock.
- James 5:14-15; The pastors are to pray over those who are sick.
- Titus 1:9; The pastor is to instruct using sound doctrine and rebuke those who contradict it.
In context, these qualifications must be interpreted as character qualification, not legalistic ones. 1 Timothy 1:4 clarifies that God’s administration is by faith as opposed to works. In 1:8-11, it is clarified that the Law is for sinners and does not benefit those who are righteous. To read these qualifications as a legalistic means to achieve a certain position is to contradict what has already been stated in Paul’s letter. These qualifications, therefore, must be character qualifications. Christ transforms the heart. Therefore, the current condition of the heart is the thing that is measured, not past outward action or outward appearance. For, the Gospel is not a works-based system, but a system of faith by God’s grace alone. Considering this, we also consider these qualifications for all of those who would become pastors or elders and fulfill the role described above from Scripture. These qualifications are necessary to consider so that we only call men who are gifted as pastors and in whom we see a maturing in the faith.
- Pastors are to be above reproach. Remember that we are not following a legalistic interpretation of the text. Pastors are not going to be perfect people because there are no perfect people. Instead, having a character or Christ-likeness produced in them, the elder will strive to do all things “above board” with proper accountability. When he fails, and he most definitely will, he will be quick to repent, reorient, and continue following faithfully after Christ. Any pastor who refuses to repent and, instead, elects to live in sin disqualifies himself from ministry, but cannot separate himself from the love of Christ.
- Pastors are to be the husband of one wife. A legalistic interpretation would conclude that unless a man is married to a woman he is unfit to serve as an elder. It has been further interpreted to mean that divorced men cannot serve as elders, but this too is a legalistic interpretation of the text and context would discourage that sort of interpretation. Instead, being a character qualification, within the man who desires to be an elder Christ produces the character of marital commitment. In essence, an elder is to be a one woman type of man. A past sin, which is forgiven by God, cannot keep him from serving as an elder, and singleness is not to keep him from being an elder (else neither Jesus nor Paul nor any person who has had his wife pass from this life would qualify to shepherd God’s people). If one is single or divorced, it will be the case that he is not given to lust or his youthful passions, but self controlled (2 Timothy 2:22). Paul also wrote that it is good for a man to remain single because singleness itself is also a gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7-8). The character of the elder is then resistant to sexual immorality. It does not prohibit remarriage or singleness. It would, however, prohibit polygamy since polygamy is the opposite of sexual purity and commitment.
- Pastors are to be sensible or temperate. A legalistic interpretation would assume that it is merely meant that an elder ought to have a tight reign over his actions by his own muster. A character interpretation clarifies that sensibility is deeper than merely outward action. It applies to the heart and the mind. The elder is to be sober and balanced in his thinking and with his emotions. There is to be such a character in the pastor that he will maintain command of his reason, be watchful and observant of the things going on around him, and be balanced in his assessments.
- Pastors are to have self-control. Self-control logically follows sensibility. Here a legalistic interpretation assumes that we begin with self-control while a character interpretation recognizes that sensibility precedes self-control. Elders should, because their thinking is balanced and sober, have control over their impulses, not acting out, not making rash or hurried decisions, and being prudent in all things.
- Pastors are to be respectable. He should be honorable and dignified inwardly. This translates outwardly to humility, honesty, and virtuosity.
- Pastors are to be hospitable. If an elder has a hospitable character, he receives those who come to him with respect and acceptance. He serves them as much as he can. In essence, he is approachable and loving to all those who would come into his home or into his office or into his presence anywhere at anytime.
- Pastors must be able to teach. This qualification, as the others, is directly linked to the elders identity as a Christian and, especially here, to his role of service in Christ’s kingdom on this earth. For the elder’s responsibility is to teach. This does not restrict others from teaching. This character qualification clarifies that those who are to be elders in Christ’s church will have the desire to study and understand Christ’s word in depth, and have the spiritual gift of explaining Christ’s word to others while making application. A legalistic interpretation would assume that an elder needs to be charismatic in his delivery or need to teach something new or profound, but we are waiters, not chefs. We deliver the meal that God has already prepared and given us in His word.
- Pastors are not to be excessive drinkers. If interpreted legalistically, we might assume that elders are to abstain outwardly from alcohol; but this would merely be a human work. A character interpretation helps us to understand this qualification more deeply. If elders are to be sober minded and balanced in his thinking, then he will have produced in him the desire not to do anything or partake of anything that would impair his judgment or keep him from being balanced in his thinking. This is not a prohibition of alcohol, but a recognition of the need for balanced thinking and judgment at all times. If the pastor does anything that would impair his judgment and does not repent, he has disqualified himself from service as an elder. If his judgment is impaired because of the degradation of his mental facilities, age, or an accident, he should resign with all dignity. He has served Christ faithfully.
- Pastors are to be gentle. If we are submitted to Christ and willing servants to our fellow people, then we will not easily be given to violence, bullying, verbal abuse, angry yelling, or angry pushing and shoving. By our character, we should be the picture of meekness. This also means something for the way in which a pastor teaches. Anger should not be present and demeanor should not be threatening. We are serving Christ and serving people for their good, being tolerant and conciliatory.
- Pastors are not to be quarrelsome. This is also translated as peaceable. This character quality means that there is a yearning in the elder’s heart to reconcile people both to God and to one another. Where there is bitter argument or dispute or division, an elder being prepared by God will have the desire to heal those rifts and aid in uniting the congregation.
- Pastors are not to be greedy. This one is self-explanatory.
- Pastors must manage their own households, having their children under control with all dignity. A legalistic interpretation would assume that elders are currently married and have children living in the home and would disqualify anyone who has a child that has acted out or anyone who has not yet had children or whose children have moved out of the house. Once again, neither Jesus nor Paul would be qualified to shepherd the people of God, and this presents some problems. If interpreted as a character qualification, this means that the elder is a good manager over what God has given, this can be seen particularly in the family. If he does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of God’s church? This is not a prohibition of childless men becoming pastors. It is a recognition that good and wise management is necessary.
- Pastors must not be new converts. This is a recognition that elders should be chosen from those who have a maturity in the faith and in whom the faith has been proved. This is not an age restriction, but rather a qualification in maturity and relationship with Christ. Many who have professed to be Christians for years are still infants in the faith and should not be chosen as elders. Some who have followed Christ for only a couple years show a maturity in the faith beyond their years. The church in Ephesus had only existed at this point for four years. Within that time, there were men qualified to serve as elders and who were not considered to be new converts.
- Pastors must have good reputations among outsiders. This has to do specifically with living above reproach. The person who has these characteristics produced within him will maintain a good public image because he is a servant, sober-minded, honest, and meek in his service.