1 Timothy 3:1 A Fine Work


I want to get us back into the mode of studying First Timothy and Church 101 so a very brief review is necessary. In the first chapter Paul touches on Pastoral Leadership, the Foundation of the Gospel as the core of the church and the fullness of God's grace. It seems that in the church people were missing the point. There were teachers who were teaching the law wrongly. They had forgotten that the Law's singular purpose is the convict sinners and direct them to Jesus. Paul himself serves as the primary example of the chief of all sinners. If God can save Paul the blasphemer, the persecutor and the violent agressor than God can certainly save you. Amen? (I expect at least a few amens!)

The second chapter launches us into ministry. As children of God we are first commanded to pray. We must pray at all times for all people with every kind of prayer, intercession, requests, conversational, and above all prayers of thanks. The fruit of our prayers may well be the salvation of many souls.

The men are specifically commanded to pray without anger and dissension. The Women are specifically required to dress appropriately and to be devoted learners of God's word . Elsewhere we learn that women must teach other women but here we discover they must neither teach men nor exercise authority over men.

Now considering the context of what has gone before – specifically in terms of Paul's statements concerning women in leadership it is only natural that he begin to explain the requirements for leadership in the church but also to a certain extent to defend leadership.

This is why he begins the third chapter with "It is a trustworthy statement, if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do." In this statement Paul demonstrates a few principles for us to adhere to when it comes to church leadership.

Through the Pastoral letters of 1 & 2 Timothy and Titus as well as in Acts and in a few other locations the ordering of the church governing body is explained to us. Biblically speaking the church leadership consisted of a group of Elders. These were men who were spiritually mature and who had a significant grasp on the doctrines of the Bible and for these reasons they are qualified to give leadership to the body of Christ.

God is the head of Jesus Christ. Jesus answers to and obeys the Father. Jesus Christ is the head of the church. The Church answers to and obeys Jesus first because he is our Lord and second because he wants what is best for her. Within the church the elders are the head and the deacons are the hands if you will of the church. The Elders as a group are responsible to rule, to teach, to protect, to guide and to direct the church. The Deacons and Deaconesses are responsible to meet the physical needs of the congregation. The congregation in turn selects the Deacons and is responsible to meet the needs of the Elders in terms of financial support as well as in terms of honor. The entire congregation including the elders and deacons are responsible to the world to bring it the good news of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ and his death, burial and resurrection.

It is against this backdrop that Paul gives us these guidelines for church leadership.

In light of some of the negatives which Paul has shared thus far about leadership, it is likely that some in Ephesus would begin to feel that leadership was a bad thing. Paul has already talked about teachers who don't know what they're teaching. They create lots of noise but no change. They have a bad habit of focussing on unimportant controversies like genealogies and old wives tales and some of whom apparently had gone so far off the deep end that Paul had to hand them over to Satan's domain for punishment. On top of that Paul has just finished explaining why it is that he does not permit women to take the position of pastoral authority in the church.

In light of all of this if one of the men in Ephesus had a heart to be a church leader he might be inclined to just back away slowly and avoid the stigma. But if God has put in your heart a passion or desire to take on the noble task of being an overseer or an elder in the church, there is nothing wrong with it.

We are used to thinking in terms of leadership as a referent to being in charge. And while it's true that leadership in the church is infused with the responsibilities of actually leading, directing and ultimately answering to God for the direction of the church, the task of leadership in the Church is one of servitude. Let us begin then with 1 Timothy 3:1. Read it.

The word is faithful – There's Nothing Wrong With Leadership

Throughout the Pastoral letters1, Paul uses this phrase "It is a trustworthy statement", or as one man put it, "You can take this proposition to the bank."2 Each time it is a reference to some level of our relationship to Christ. This time it looks instead to leadership in the Church. That may seem a little out of sync because issues of church polity seem rather "earthly". After all "who is in charge" is a perennial problem with us as fallible human beings. This is why Jesus repeatedly3 warned his disciples not to Lord their authority over others. A greater leader is a greater servant. "The first will be last" and many other lessons were given to the apostles and also to us so that we would not equate leadership with power – but rather with responsibility.

Viewed in light of the leadership's purpose in guiding souls to Christ and protecting them it becomes easier to understand why Paul would begin this passage with a faithful word about church leadership and the character of the men who pursue it.

A Job Worth Wanting

We often think of pastoral leadership in terms of calling. I do believe that God calls people to individual tasks and ministries, but often times God's call is not specific but general. For instance there is an increasing level of specificity in the calls to: Christian → Elder → Teacher → Pastor → Senior/Solo/Youth Pastor → Pastor of Fame Evangelical Church. A life of ministry however is not always up to a "mysterious" call to become a pastor. I think the principle here not only exists for pastor but for any elder and for that matter for any missionary or Sunday School teacher or any other way we might have of serving God. If the desire is in your heart is to serve God – that is a good thing.

Whatever the "level" of calling, there is in that calling a requisite desire. While it can be needlessly debated as to whether the desire is placed there by God or not; it does remain that a desire to lead is not an evil thing but a good one.

Andy Stanley describes his move to the pastorate this way:

I never felt called to preach. I just volunteered. I wanted to feel called. But it just never happened for me. Several of my friends felt called while we were in high school. They went forward during a Sunday night service and shared it with the congregation. Everybody clapped. Some of them are still in ministry. I think one of 'em is in jail.

One afternoon I was driving somewhere with my dad. After one of those long moments of silence that fathers and sons have when driving together, I spoke up and said, "Dad, does a person have to be called into ministry or can they just volunteer?"

He thought for a moment. "Well, I guess it's okay to volunteer."

"Good," I said. "I would like to volunteer." So I did. 4

When Andy Stanley asked his dad about volunteering to enter pastoral ministry he was experiencing what 1 Timothy 3:1 calls "aspiring to the office of overseer."

The Greek word for "aspires to be"(ὀρέγεται" /oregetai) literally means "leaning towards" or "reaching out for". This is what describes Andy Stanley's experience. It is the visual picture of someone reaching and stretching in order to attain something. It is used only two other times in the new testament. In 1 Timothy 6:10 it describes people who "long for" money – and because of that longing come to ruin. In Hebrews 11:16 it describes people who "long for" heaven. In both of those instances it is intended to describe more than a passing fancy – but rather an intentional – headstrong determination – if you will to obtain the object of their desire, whether that desire be money, heaven or a passion to be an overseer in the church. That's why the translators of the NIV translate the phrase "if anyone sets his heart on".

Try watching a baby who is stuck in that phase between infant and toddler. They want a toy or some other object but it's up too high and they don't quite have the skills to get there. Crawling won't quite cut it, and the poor baby doesn't have the skill set in place to walk with any consistency yet so they stretch for it. My own crackpot theory is that this is the reason that pre-toddlers grow so fast. It is not that they are really growing the problem is that their muscles don't know how to contract anymore. If they want something on the couch they'll take their tiny little body and stretch for all its worth to obtain it. He'll contort his wrists and try different spinal twists and head positions just to see if he can garner that last 1/8th of an inch between the tip of the fingers and the object of his desires. That's what it means to desire the office of overseer – if you yearn for it and you're willing to work for it it's a good work you want. And make no mistake, it is work.

Being an Overseer is Noble

There is something embedded in the concept of overseer though, which I'll discuss which makes it clear that Paul is not describing a cushy Job. A noble task does not equate to an easy one.

The word which is translated either as overseer or bishop in your Bible is ἐπισκοπῆς (episkopes). The origin of the word points to it's meaning. Initially ἐπισκοπή caries the concept of watching or visiting sometimes in order to bring about the divine presence of judgement. It takes on the meaning of leadership because it is the Christian leader's task to watch over the people in their care for their good. So I prefer a third more expanded translation of the term: "a watcher of souls".

The overseers Job is that of watching over the individual people under his care, presumably to ensure that they grow in grace. In new testament practice the overseer was an elder, In modern language the pastor is the overseer. The greater focus on being pastor in the pastoral letters is not upon the inherent authority but rather upon the duty to watch. There is a required level of authority for an effective overseer or pastor to be able to rebuke, correct, train and direct towards a holy life. The Overseer therefore is an office of responsibility focused upon the care and guardianship of the souls in the church.5

I think there are a couple of reasons why Paul wrote this out. First of all, I believe there were men in the church who had a desire to step into the position of overseer.

Second I believe Paul wanted Timothy to be on the lookout for those who might be suited to the task. One aspect of suitability might indeed be someone who had a desire. Of course not everyone who wants something is qualified, so the following section will lay down some standards by which to measure men before they step into the position and did damage both to themselves and to the church.

Now I may be the only one in the room with a desire to be a pastor – that's fine. But when you examine a passage like this one there is in fact a broader application. The first and easiest point of application is the surface level of the text. If anyone here has a desire to be a pastor or an elder – it's a good work they want.

Now broaden the scope a bit. Is there a ministry you want to take part it but you're somehow waiting for God to issue that "mysterious call" you're always hearing about? Remember that if we delight ourselves in the Lord that the Lord will in fact give you the desires of your heart. So I would say that if you're trying to walk with the Lord and you have a desire to serve somewhere; pursue that passion with diligence as though it were a mandate from God himself.


11 Tim. 1:15; 3:1; 4:9; 2 Tim. 2:11; Tit. 3:8

2from an email, Carl W. Conrad, Department of Classics, Washington University (Retired) 1989 Grindstaff Road/Burnsville, NC 28714/(828) 675-4243 WWW: http://www.ioa.com/~cwconrad/

3Matthew 20:25-26; Mark 10:42-43; Luke 22:25-26; Matthew 18:4; Matthew 23:11; Mark 9:34; John 13; Luke 22:26

4Reference: http://www.sermoncentral.com/document_extras/AndyStanley08_14_06.asp Adapted from Communicating for a Change: Seven Keys to Irresistible Communication by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones (c) 2006 by North Point Ministries, Inc.

5Seldom have I been so convicted and more moved to trembling by understanding my job description.