Paul is beginning to outline the job qualifications for the different offices in the new body. These are personal characteristics required of a person before he steps into this role. Today’s reading focuses on the role of overseer.
My bible helps tell me that synonymous words for “overseer” are pastor, shepherd and elder. I thought maybe this was the case but I had to check it out to be sure. This was the role Timothy was currently occupying in the church in Ephesus. Paul shares that this is a noble office to aspire to.
“The list of qualities is not intended to be exhaustive but pictures a person of mature Christian character, one whose faith has had a tangible impact on his behavior” (ESV study helps for 1 Timothy 3:1-7). The list Paul provides is a description of someone who has a firm foundation in the faith. Someone personally trustworthy who can be counted on to exercise the same care he has in his personal life over the whole body of believers.
I wonder if Timothy held his life up against this list and felt himself lacking. We don’t know if Timothy was married. Paul’s list doesn’t specifically preclude single men from serving but it could be interpreted that way: “The husband of one wife” (verse 2). This would also eliminate men who had more than one wife or those who had been divorced.
Another area where Timothy might feel himself lacking would be in the area of children. Again, the list doesn’t preclude men without children but they would not have the experience of “keeping his children submissive” (verse 4) without them. I’ve seen, on more than one occasion, how being able to manage children equates very well to managing a group of individuals.
The last area where Timothy might feel he was lacking would be the area of length of time walking with Jesus. We don’t know how long Timothy had been walking with Jesus before Paul met him. Bible.org says that Timothy spent 13 years under Paul’s personal teaching before this time. But did Timothy feel equipped? Did he feel he was a “mature” believer?
I have seen this list abused a time or two too. One time our new pastor was told he had to step down because he was overweight. The board said that if he couldn’t control his physical appetite how could they be sure he could control other areas of his life. I don’t know how anyone lives up to this list 100% of the time. In fact, the history of church scandals shows that many DON’T. There is also the issue of the “PK” (preacher’s kid) syndrome where the worst kids in the congregation are the preacher’s kids. That would certainly go against Paul’s list!
So how do you know if an “overseer” candidate is good? First use Paul’s list criteria, tempered by the Holy Spirit. Second, listen to his teaching and see if it lines up with the word of God. But above all else, pray about and for those in leadership and follow God’s leading. If the Holy Spirit tells you this is His man, be willing to sit down and take instructions. If not, run the other way!
Father God, I have met and sat under so many different pastors in my life. Some I would stake my life on them being called by You, but others felt differently. I have also had the reverse happen. Is this because there are different people called to reach only certain groups? Was I not listening to Your Spirit? Was I blind to the facts?
I would not try to hold my life up next to Paul’s list. I would be disqualified immediately based on my gender. But how would I rate in the other areas IN YOUR EYES? I think that right there is the key issue: how we rate in Your eyes.
Lord Jesus, I’m NOT asking to be an overseer or leader. I’m simply asking You to help me live up to the standards in character of one whom You deem worthy of the office. These are qualities I want to aspire to in my life at all times. Help me also use sober judgement in those who serve in this role in my life. I don’t want to be judgmental but Spirit led. Help me hear Your Spirit in all matters, especially in who is my shepherd. Actually, until I can again sit under an earthly shepherd, PLEASE be my Shepherd. Thank You for always and already filling this role for me.