Written by Paul J. Bucknell on April, 15, 2022
1 Timothy 3:1-7 Selecting Godly Church Leadership with Bible Study Questions
Paul lays down foundational principles for church governance in 1 Timothy. He understood the importance of offices and designated duties. We usually can decipher the churches’ needs by the topics the author addresses in his letter. The Apostle Paul sets the standard for elders in verses 1-7. The Christian leader’s personal life directly affects how he would carry out his church responsibilities. For those who are elders, this passage serves as a test of qualification (personal integrity) and as a challenge to maintain a godly ministry.
Who we are directly affect what we do. Our person shapes our ministry; our perspectives become the church’s perspectives. To live upright, godly lives is a tremendous responsibility. It demands that we be sensitive to God’s interactions in our lives and continue to recognize the opportunities to serve His people and pass on His saving truths.
A. Aspiration For Ministry Shapes Devotion To the Church (1 Tim 3:1)
But Check One’s Motives
“It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do”
(1 Timothy 3:1 NASB).
Paul believed in the essential office of bishop/overseer. This ministry acts as good work. Good in the sense that one can influence so many people for good. The work associated with the office requires a lot of energy.
God lays this shepherding desire on many of His servants. Paul connects to that interest—“if any man aspires”—by highlighting this aspiration and the responsibilities of this position. There is nothing wrong with a desire to be an elder; it’s a good desire, and provides many opportunities to do good. Practically, it might include visitation when others sleep or attendance at meetings when others watch television.
Paul doesn’t give any particular cautions in this verse about how wrong motives might bring decay to the church. He no doubt is sensitive to the issue. The many qualifications he lists in the following verses help us to observe this. These guidelines, if followed, will weed out those with ulterior motives. The one aspiring to be an elder will need to possess these standards before taking the position.
An elder’s personal gifts and experiences will affect how he ministers. His motivation will shape how he handles the ministry in an even greater way. If the position is seen as a platform for his power, a place to find ease or job security, the ministry will be tainted. If however, he aspires to this position because it affords him many more opportunities to serve, then his experience and gifts will enable him to carry out these good works effectively.
“If any man.” We should pay careful attention to the gender requirement. The literal word here in verse 1 is “anyone” which would open it to anyone. But the guidelines that follow determine it means “any man.” The “Overseer” is in the masculine; even more to the point, “husband of one wife” shows Paul is only addressing men (3:2).
Many today are open to women leading in the church. By considering only men for this position, Paul is consistent with God’s standard. He set the standard in creation by creating man first, giving him authority (1 Tim 2:12-14), and by Jesus’ example of choosing only men apostles. We all know gifted sisters, but they should not rule the church.
The following commentary will discuss each of the sixteen qualifications, grouping them under various categories.
B. Impeccable Morals Raises the Church’s Standards (1 Tim 3:2-3)
But Check One’s Understanding of Holiness
“An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money” (1 Tim 3:2-3).
Moral standards are a must; they are not optional. Immorality has gained a much broader acceptance in the surrounding world, bringing its sinful effects into the church. The bishop must be beyond reproach, a man with only one woman (i.e., wife), sober-minded, self-controlled (thoughtful), orderly, hospitable, and able to teach. These requirements go far beyond what our culture accepts today. But no matter what others say or do, God’s standards remain necessary for entrance into and remain in the office. Each leader’s effectiveness is related to these standards. Paul directly challenges the popular notion that the pastor’s personal life is his own private business. How diabolical is this thought!
1) Irreproachable—The Standard Setter
The elder must be above reproach, irreproachable (blameless, unblemished, exemplary). This word defines a man’s character and describes it: “good man.” He is not ‘media enhanced.’ These men are rightly treasured today because of their scarcity. This godly man is impeccable.
His struggles occur at a deeper level in his life, where it does not affect other people. God’s grace wraps about those more obvious personal or relational problems to the degree that he is indeed a man of good report.
The leader’s moral standard affects the standards of those under his care. If the follower’s behavior excels that of the leader, this follower displays certain leadership abilities. He preserves his own standards against the influence of other leaders due to his personal decisions.
The bishop’s irreproachable behavior is necessary so that he can encourage others to imitate him. He can proclaim God’s Word without reservation, with the people more readily accepting his leadership and opinion. Being beyond reproach increases persuasion to the truth of God’s message, leads to confidence in his decisions and guidance, and enables him to give counsel based on how God works in his own life. Inconsistent life-standards breeds mistrust and discontent rather than a warm climate of truth, hope, and help.
The standards below are straightforward. On the right is an essential quality related to the standard on the left.
2) One-woman Man The Loyal Hearted
3) Clearheaded The Discerner
4) Irreproachable The Standard Setter
5) Self-controlled The Self-disciplined
6) Orderly The Effective Manager
7) Hospitable The Sharing Host
8) Able Teacher The Skillful Teacher
9) Not addicted to Drink or Drugs
Anyone who likes to linger long over any type of alcohol is not suitable for the ministry. Mixed motivations, temptations to be lazy, and caught up in the pleasures of this world are signs that forbid eldership. Those that drink regularly to drunkenness are identified with the world. If God’s people need anything, it is a mark of separation unto God. Identification with the world is not good, nor is the lifestyle that affords spending money and time lingering over liquor or drugs. This does not speak of past habits but present ones.
An over-user is as bad as a constant user. This clear guideline prevents those who might otherwise be gifted and well-accepted from taking an authority position in the church. This standard also demands that those who are already elders/pastors check their personal habits.
10) Not Violent —Not Given to Beating (3:3)
Elders must not be violent. This is quite recognizable to most; he will similarly rule the church if he is a tyrant at home. People will cower before him rather than find support and comfort.
When offended or his temper flares, he is apt to sin in many respects. The listed self-control mentioned earlier would be distinctly absent. The apostle Paul lists dangerous qualities like “pugnacious” to give extra boldness to hold leaders accountable. The explosive person cannot be a listener, enlister, or sensitive to God. They often live a stormy life, leaving a trail of wounded people.
This particular command avoids domineering types that tend to control people with tempers. God’s people are to be ruled with love, care, and discipline. This ruling must not be confused with parental discipline. Whether by chastisement or other types of punishment, discipline is a controlled way of dealing with children. The rules are set and if followed, there is no occasion for violent outbursts (Eph 6:4). May each church be wise enough to avoid subjecting itself to an explosive and violent man, but recognize and encourage the church’s gentle, kind, and merciful leaders.
11) Kind—Balanced, forbearing, lenient, peaceable
The “gentle” contrasts nicely with the above standard; elders are to forbear those under their care. They need to have kind hearts, giving them a genuine ability to deal with others patiently. They don’t take revenge but look for opportunities to give, share, and forgive.
If Jesus summarized our lives by the word love, then what Paul lists here are some specific applications of love. As stated elsewhere, “Love covers a multitude of sin.” When an elder has forbearance, he is not quick to take offense because he realizes that the other person’s sin is nothing like what God forgave him of. Mercy deserves mercy. Even if we are offended, we aren’t perfect either. Furthermore, people need encouragement. Our pride should be continually dealt with so that we kindly respond to other people’s needs rather than defending ourselves. If the pastor/elder is preoccupied with self, his support for others will fall short. Patience assures the forbearance needed to aid people in their struggles and enables them to offer different strategies.
12) Not Contentious—Without a fighting spirit
Bishops clearly cannot be of the violent type, but nor can they be quarrelsome to the point beyond love. Some tend to be aggressive more out of habit than motive. Winning the argument becomes much more important than the actual issues they fight for. The people involved become irrelevant except as pawns to be moved for one’s advantage. Pride and conceit, self-projection of insecurities and habit, destroy rather than edify.
Though these church leaders can accomplish much, they lack compassion and motivation of love. For example, the argumentative elder might lead to a split in the church and become the leader of a disenfranchised group. The fighter will not be content with anything less than what he wants. He will use situations, people, and even issues to produce reactions leading to the acceptance of his opinion. They are bred fighters and must learn forbearance, gentleness, and mercy before they come into leadership and hurt the church.
13) Not a Money Lover —Willing to give and share
Bishops must remain close to their Lord, separated from any affection toward money. They understand the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it. Nothing has been received which was not first given. As they freely receive, they freely give. If money remains unloved, the leader can freely give without any expected return. Hospitality is an opportunity to lovingly share one’s possessions with others. Elders have special opportunities to observe the flock’s needs and share what they have.
Where are the elders’ true affections? Some in Ephesus evidently became too attached to money. That can easily happen in big cities. They live more for life on earth rather than for God’s service in His kingdom. If any special attention is given to money, then there will be a compromise in the ministry that the Lord has entrusted to them.
One wealthy leader makes ‘loans’ without expecting any return. He freely gives to those in need and has made that church a giving church. They all give. They know the pastor is rich and shares with others. He often takes salary cuts and will give more than others to the building fund.
C. Good Manager of Family Assures Proper Leadership For The Church (1 Timothy 3:4-5)
But Check Subtle Teachings of One’s Culture With the Bible
“4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?)” (1 Timothy 3:4-5).
14) Rules his house well — Good Manager
Our generation does not understand how our personal life affects our devotion to God. As a Christian’s life is affected, so is the pastor’s life. From the principle found in verse 5: The pastor/elder will rule in the church only as well as he rules his family. We can draw several principles from these verses.
1) As the pastor loves and cares for his family, he will love and care for the church. As the pastor lacks love and care for his family, he will lack love for the church.
2) Personal communication and managerial skills will only be as good in the church as at home. Any relationship skills lacking in the home will also be lacking in the church.
3) To the degree the pastor enforces discipline in his family, he will do so in the church. The lack of discipline in the church will exist to the degree the pastor permits it in his family.
The home is a managerial testing place. Many elders wouldn’t want to admit their authority to rule is only as good as the state of their family. How many elders and pastors would vacate their positions if this rule were suddenly enforced? This assessment of their distressed families should alarm the church. The church cannot afford to leave them in their present positions.
One cannot expect congregational families to surpass the model they provide in the pastor’s family. Of course, it can and does happen, but ordinary people receive instructions directly from the example of the pastor’s family.
No sermon speaks as loudly as the pastor’s example.
The pastor’s relationships can only be as good as those in his home. Specific relational patterns are learned and reinforced; they are not likely to change.
Paul particularly addresses the way the elder raises his children. This is where we identify patterns of discipline and instruction in the home. If a pastor severely beats his children to get them to do what they are supposed to, then he will use this aggressive pattern to motivate those in the church. On the other hand, if he uses encouragement and discipline to train and teach, then one can expect he will properly lead the church in righteousness.
Practically speaking, the pastor has time to devote to others only to the degree that he has the support of his family. If his home problems consume lots of time and energy, he will be limited on what he can give to the church.
These standards do not intimate that his family is perfect (whatever that means). Families grow, and like individuals, they experience rocky times. The emphasis is on how the elder trains and encourages his children before and during this time. We need to perceive what attitudes he displays toward them in different situations. Does he see his kids as hopeless or having lots of potential by God’s grace? We need to maintain our church’s elders manage their household well. May God raise more godly men for the ministry. Preaching isn’t everything.
D. Mature Faith Protects From Intensive Attacks From The Evil One (1 Tim 3:6)
But Check The Mature; Don’t Rely on Experience.
“And not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Timothy 3:6 NASB).
15) Not a New Convert —Experienced
One danger, always lurking about, occurs when leaders see themselves as an indispensable part of God’s work. They view their work as their gift to God rather than God’s gift to man. The elder can easily slide into the mindset where he glories in what he can offer the church.
The novice is even more susceptible to these temptations. The word ‘novice’ is literally used for newly planted trees. Satan is ever so clever to use their pride to his advantage. The devil wouldn’t mind giving him success just to encourage his fall into pride.
God doesn’t tolerate pride and will expose him. We can quickly see numerous reasons why new pastors, just out of seminary should not immediately work in positions that might produce too much success.
The bishop/pastor is susceptible to conceit, as all ministers. We can overestimate our contribution. The Greek word describes him as being surrounded by smoke. In other words, one only sees himself; he cannot penetrate the cloud to see anyone else. This aura of overconfidence is fatal and threatens every minister. The young pastor might be more susceptible to it, but the number of elders getting divorced and committing adultery is shocking. Many have become overconfident that they are convinced the way they see things is the right way. They can justify anything with scriptures, even ungodly behaviors, such as adultery and stealing. Satan’s fall seems to have arisen from the sin of conceit.
E. Good Reputation Enhances the Testimony to Unbelievers (7)
But Verify With Non-Believers; Doesn’t Compromise
16) Have a Good Reputation—Reputable
“And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil” (1 Timothy 3:7 NASB).
Paul finishes this long list of qualities for overseers in verse 7. Interestingly, he mentions a good reputation with unbelievers. Paul wrote elsewhere that the church need not judge the world (1 Cor 5:12-13), but he believes they can judge the church! Only those with a good reputation with outsiders can be an overseer. It makes sense, after all. If the leader has somehow compromised his finances or dealings in the world, Satan will use this to trouble the whole church.
Satan does not always, as soon as possible, expose the sins of mankind. He strategically analyzes their situation to spring the trap he laid for them many years prior. We seek holiness not only to please God but to prevent trouble from developing later. If the believer, especially a Christian leader, has somehow formerly done wrong, they are to correct their situation.
God appoints shepherds to govern and feed the flock. They are to protect the sheep from wolves, those who care not for their well-being. The standards or qualities listed here in 1 Timothy are demanding because the overseer’s character directly affects the care they give to the sheep.
Bible Study Questions on 1 Timothy 3:1-7
- Read the sixteen standards. What two or three standards or qualities stand out the most to you? Why?
- The selection for qualified leaders includes both inner and outer qualities. Which is mentioned in verse 1?
- Do pastors/elders need to be men? Why?
- Can you share an example of a leader who desires such a position?
- Verse 3 speaks of pugnacious. What is that like?
- What quality in a leader do you appreciate most?
- Which trait do you most hate? Why?
- What is the “snare of the devil” mean, mentioned in verse 3:7?
- How do you elect your overseers? Do you use these qualities to help you judge?
- Does your church have a way to hold your leaders accountable for their conduct and attitudes? Discuss.
- Share a story of how deficient standards in a leader led to the demise of a church.
- Pray for your church leaders now!
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