This is a message preached on April 18 regarding the qualifications of a bishop, found in I Timothy 3:1-7.
You can click here to go to the Internet Archive page for this sermon, or listen to the sermon using the player below.
1. This morning I found this prayer of Martin Luther on a web site. It certainly fits what we are talking about today: “Lord God, You have appointed me to be a pastor in Your Church. You see how unfit I am to undertake this great and difficult office,and were it not for Your help, I would long since have ruined it all. Therefore I cry unto You; I will assuredly apply my mouth and my heart to Your service. I desire to teach the people, and I myself would learn ever more and diligently to meditate upon Your Word.
Use me as Your instrument, only do not forsake me, for if I am left alone I shall easily bring it all to destruction. Amen. ”
I will go so far to say that if there is a pastor who does not identify with that prayer should not be in the ministry. It contains everything necessary for being a pastor of a church – a sense of God’s call, a sense of being utterly inadequate for the job, complete reliance on God for getting the job done, a desire to do what one is called to do, a desire to do it properly, a willingness to become more and more what one is called to do and be.
So, this morning we consider one of the most famous passages in all the Bible regarding the qualifications for being a pastor/elder/bishop in a church.
II The List
1. The list in I Timothy 3 is well known – but there are several things that need to be pointed out from it. There is no way that we can adequately cover all that can be said about the qualities listed here. Compare it to the list in Titus 1:6-9.
a. The list is not exhaustive. There are other texts in the NT where we see other qualities of spiritual leadership. (I Peter 5, Titus 1, Acts 20, John 13 … And to get a complete picture of the man and his work all the Pastoral Epistles should be read and expounded.)
b. It is mostly a list of characteristics. Personality traits as opposed to abilities. Character as opposed to gifts. In fact, there is only one item on this list which is a matter of ability – verse 2. He must be able to teach.
i. Character matters. This must never be forgotten. It can become very tempting for churches to desire gifts and abilities above character. We need someone who can organize the ministries and ministers (you). We need someone with charisma. We need someone with a business background … … . No dear ones. We need someone with a stable family life, who gets along with people, who can open a text of Scripture and explain it to us. We need someone whose children will rise up and say that he was at home what he was outside – even if they do not believe it themselves. We need someone who isn’t in it for the money or the prestige or because he is so inept that he couldn’t survive if there weren’t such a position in the world.
ii. This becomes particularly tempting when looking for a pastor or considering who should be an elder. The seniors want someone who will work well with seniors. The youth want, the men want, the women want, the immigrants want … … . And how much of that will you find in the NT? Not a jot or tittle. Unless you count some of the qualities here in I Timothy 3.
2. The list – in terms of the kind of man the overseer is to be. Six major headings for understanding this list. Dear ones, this list is important.
a. Reputation –
i. above reproach – v. 2
(1) Perhaps this is the umbrella quality under which all of the rest fall. In other words, all that follows up to the end of verse 7 is an explanation of what “above reproach” means. He is above reproach in his family life, in his reputation with the lost as well as the saved and when he is alone (verse 2-3).
ii. respectable – v. 2
iii. well thought of by outsiders – v.7
b. Family life
i. husband of one wife – v. 2
ii. hospitable – v. 3
iii. manage his own house well – v.4-5
iv. submissive children – v.4
c. Self control
i. sober minded – v. 2
ii. self controlled – v. 2
iii. not a drunkard – v. 3
iv. not violent but gentle – v.3
v. not quarrelsome – v.4
i. not a recent convert – v.6
i. not a lover of money v.3
i. able to teach – v.2
(1) See II Timothy
(a) Hold on to the truth – 1:14
(b) Teach the Truth – 2:2, 14, 24
(c) Preach the Truth – 4:2, 5
But there is another way to see this list. Look at it in terms of the areas of the man’s life. Like all people the overseer has a family life, a community life, a work life and a private life.
3. Look at the qualities and note this. They relate to the man as he is in his community, in his church, in his home and in his private life when he is with no one.
a. In his home –
(a) husband of one wife – v. 2
(b) hospitable – v. 3
(c) manage his own house well – v.4-5
(d) submissive children – v.4
b. In his church –
(a) able to teach – v.2
(b) not a recent convert – v.6
(c) above reproach – v. 2
(d) not quarrelsome – v.4
c. In his community –
(a) respectable – v. 2
(b) well thought of by outsiders – v.7
d. In himself –
(a) sober minded – v. 2
(b) self controlled – v. 2
(c) not a drunkard – v. 3
(d) not a lover of money v.3
And what does all that tell you? It tells you that the qualifications for this work are not about position or reputation or prestige or popularity. It is not for a church to have a man who can look good in public, have good “pulpit presence”, be able to tell a few jokes and win a crowd over for an hour or two. The church needs men who are walking with their God when they are in the pulpit and when they are mowing their lawn and when they are at home and – and – and – when they are all by themselves.
III An Oversee Must Be
1. This saying is trustworthy
a. – pistos ὁ logos – “faithful the word”. “Trust me on this…” Or “As sure as shootin’” or “this is really true” “You can bank on this”. Does this mean that the other stuff he has been saying can not be banked upon? Is he saying that everything else he has come up with is not trustworthy? It cannot be that Paul is indicating that other thing he says are not reliable or trustworthy. So it amounts to him saying – “pay particular attention to this Timothy, and do not waiver from it.” He is saying that this is particularly important.
b. Paul says this exact same thing five times in the Pastorals – pistos ὁ logos
i. I Tim. 1:15 …
ii. I Tim. 4:8-9 …
iii. II Tim. 2:11
iv. Titus 3:8 …
This is important stuff. The position of overseer is a good work but treat it with the utmost care. For a church to err in this matter is to be brought into greater error down the road. Every year we vote on elders. Dear one – do you vote with I Timothy 3 ringing in your ears? …
2. V. 2 – “therefore”
a. If you eagerly desire to the office of bishop you are aspiring to a good work. It is good to aspire to good things. It is good to covet good things. Since this is a good work you must meet certain qualifications in order to ensure that the work does not fall into bad repute because bad men are allowed to hold the office. For the sake of the work these qualifications must be adhered to.
b. Note that the text does not say that if you aspire to a good office you are a good man. Lots of evil men desire good things. Think politicians; think Morgentaler – he aspires to the good work of saving people’s lives and spends his career ending them. …. No dear ones. The work does not make the man good. But since the work is good the church must ensure that people with the wrong motives and goals and purposes do not aspire to it.
c. This is a good work. How churches need to know this. The work of spiritual oversight is not a necessary evil. It is not superfluous. It is not some sort of Jane Austen concept of being for those who cannot do anything else. How preachers are liable to complain about their calling. Don’t like it? Get out!!
d. A good work must not be brought down by bad men.
i. This is the scandal in the Roman Catholic Church right now. It is losing respect because of proven, and unproven allegations of child sexual abuse and the protection of priests who sexually abuse. The interesting thing about this is that the world gets up in arms over this, as it should, but it does not care what the Roman Catholic Church believes and teaches regarding the Gospel. But the world will not be likely to listen to anything that the RC Church says, whether it is right or wrong, because of this scandal. The overseers of the church must have a good reputation with outsiders for the sake of the Gospel. It is the glory of our Saviour that is at stake.
ii. See this hinted at in I Cor. 5:1 – Now then. If the pagans in the city of Corinth would not tolerate the sin that was tolerated in the church in Corinth then why should they consider the claims of the Gospel? As far as Corinth is concerned those Christians are immoral. It does not matter where else the Corinthian church absolutely shines. In this one thing it is dirty and that will bring the eternal Son of God into the mud and cause Him to be ridiculed.
(1) See I Timothy 1:
(2) So we see in I Timothy 3 that fully three of the qualifications Paul mentions that bishops must have, are related to how he will be perceived by those who do not know Christ. The reputation of Christ is at stake here.
3. Must – Not should, if possible. It is true that no man is going to be all these things all the time. But that does not mean that we lessen the qualifications. The leaders of this church must aspire to this and nothing less. We will not look at this and say it is too lofty and abandon it. We will look at it and pray for the incredible standard that God calls our leaders to and pray that they will know a powerful work of grace to become like this list more and more, for this is what grace can do in them, if they will submit to Christ and live empowered by the Holy Spirit.
4. Note 3:14-15
a. Paul tells Timothy the things of 3:1-7 (and everything else) so that we will know how to behave in the church … which is the pillar and buttress of the truth.
i. The qualities of 3:1-7 relate to the church being able to support and uphold the truth.
ii. Fudging on these qualities is to fudge on the truth.
Dear ones, these men are to have these qualities so that the church can be the pillar and buttress of the truth. Does that weigh on you at all? It should. And if it does not then you should pray that it will.
IV Some Crucial Points
1. Husband of one wife
a. See I Tim. 5:9
2. Manage the church
a. In the spirit of I Peter 5 … But manage none the less.
b. I Thess. 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:17
c. One of the reason why women are not to be elders. If they are they are required to be the “ruler” of their homes.
3. Keeping his children submissive – v. 4
a. Saved children? See Titus 1:6
i. No one then should be a pastor until all his children are saved …
ii. No – it means not in open rebellion
iii. It means as long as they are in the home
V So What?
1. What are some of the “so whats” that accompany a look at this text of Scripture?
a. Pray for your pastors/elders/bishops
i. Do you see qualities listed in I Timothy 3 that your elders do not have? Will you complain that they do not have them? Will you grumble to others about the fact that your leaders could be better. Listen dear ones – we know we could do better. We live daily with the knowledge that we are flawed leaders and that our flaws may negatively effect those we are trying to lead. It breaks our hearts.
(1) Allow this quote from R.A. Torrey that I just got my hands on at a pastors’ meeting this week – “Do you want a new minister? I can tell you how to get one. Pray for the one you have until God makes him over!”
(2) Pray for balance
(a) How much time should be spent in study? How much in visiting the people? How much socializing with the folks? How much extra-curricular activities should he be involved in? How much of his time in planning vision, meetings, teaching, preaching? …
(3) Pray for their holiness – I Timothy 4:16
(4) Pray for their understanding of the Scriptures – I Timothy 4:16
(5) Pray for their example – I Petr 5:1-5
(6) Pray for their standing before God on the day of judgement – James 3:1
(7) Pray that they obey the commandments fo Scripture directed to them
(a) Acts 20:28
(b) I Peter 5:1-5
(c) All the Pastoral Epistles
b. Pray for yourselves in relation to them
i. That you remember their work – Hebrews 13:17
ii. That you maintain a submissive spirit as long as you are being directed in the will of God.
iii. That God will help you follow where we lead you – I Corinthians 11:1
c. It is absolutely crucial that you have godly men at the helm of this ship. Allow them to develop spiritually. You must very highly value the spiritual growth and development of your leaders. They cannot take you further than they have been.
d. Insist on these qualities in your leaders
i. As we go to vote this year, dear ones think – who fits the bill? And if your answer is not us then do not vote for us. And if you think the pastors do not then handle that biblically ….
e. Know the commandments of Scripture to you regarding your relationship to your leaders
i. I Thess. 5:12-13
ii. Hebrews 13:17
iii. Hebrews 13:7
iv. I Corinthians 16:16
v. I Timothy 5:17-18
vi. I Timothy 5:19
vii. I Timothy 5:20