An overseer! — 1Timothy 3:1-7
By Pastor Lee Hemen
November 7, 2017
When we think of leadership in our day and age we sometimes do not have a very good opinion or view of it and it is only natural considering what we see in politics, in entertainment, in business, or in sports. In fact there are religious leaders that have left a sour taste in our mouths as well. But should leadership get such a bad rap from us? Paul would say, “No.”
Continuing his instructions to Timothy on how a church should act Paul relates who should be considered as leaders. He knew the entire world would be looking at the early church. Christians would need to be above any criticism. In other words they had to be like Jesus if they proclaimed the gospel message of Jesus to the world. Let’s see what Paul said about being an overseer…
The word overseer is not used much in our day and age and when it is used we have a tendency to think it means a slave driver or task master, nothing could be further from the truth. Here we will discover that it means the leader of a local church, a pastor. Paul gives Timothy several guidelines for when a church is looking for a pastor and he relates that…
I. An overseer must be well-balanced! (Vv. 1-3)
Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
1. Paul begins this section by stating “Here is a trustworthy saying” which was a familiar phrase people of his day used in order to acquire the listener’s or hearer’s attention to what the speaker is about to teach. So Paul is writing to Timothy to listen up because what he is about to teach him is important. “If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble” or good “task.” The term overseer (episkopos) is sometimes translated “bishop”. It is one of several words used in the New Testament to describe church leaders. “Elders” (presbyteroi) is the most common. Other words are “rulers” (proistamenoi), “leaders” (hēgoumenois) and “pastors” (poimenas). They are seen as interchangeable. So Paul is writing to Timothy a pastor about what it takes to be a good pastor. He continues by writing that “the overseer must be above reproach” in the world they would minister. Jewish husbands would divorce their wives for burning their dinner and the Greeks or Romans hopped from one relationship to another without a thought of the emotional, mental, or spiritual toll it took. Therefore the pastor should be “the husband of but one wife” meaning that he should only be a one woman man when the church would consider him for service. This phrase prohibits both polygamy and promiscuity and Paul didn’t write a man could never be divorced or that divorce was the unpardonable sin that some churches make it out to be, but rather the man they were considering should be married to one woman! He should also be “temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, [and] not a lover of money”. Leaders of the church must be self-controlled, ethical, moral, godly men who can lead not just through their speaking ability but through the wisdom they garner as they follow Jesus! An overseer must be well-balanced!
EXAMPLE: As my mama was making biscuits one day I came into the kitchen to gripe about my brother bugging me. With flour, eggs, baking powder, and salt my mother made the best biscuits ever. As she listened to me she reminded me that “You and your brother need to strike the right balance with one another instead of always trying to strike one another. You both are made of the same basic ingredients just like my biscuits, but not all biscuits come out the same even if they have the same ingredients. You have to be the one to strike the right balance in life.” Paul knew that a life that is spiritually proportional that is defined and in the way God desires is a life that is worthy of respect. In a world that was often guided by its own lusts, desires, and personal wants Paul knew that the early church would face an uphill battle. An overseer must be well-balanced!
There are men who can direct large companies, invest large amounts of money, or invent all kinds of things but are not able to lead their own families. Paul knew that a pastor who was entrusted with the church of Jesus must have certain qualities and one essential was that…
II. An overseer must direct his family well! (Vv. 4-5)
He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)
1. I have often found it amusing that churches will put a humongous emphasis on a leader’s marital situation or his ability to speak well but ignore what kind of a husband, person, and parent the man is! However Paul related that this is a very important part of considering someone for leadership as a pastor! Notice again the emphasis on the leader of the pastor as being a male: “HE must manage HIS own family”. Paul did not say that women could not be leaders in the church but the pastor should be a man. It goes back to the idea of who is the leader and assumes responsibility for the direction of the church. The church is like a family. After writing about how a marriage and family is to work and how husbands are to love their wives and wives honor their husbands Paul writes that just as a man leaves his mother and father and forms a home with his wife, the individual leaves behind the world and becomes part of God’s family the church! “This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:32 NIV) The idea here in 1Timothy is that the man should be able to stand before his family as an example of what a husband and father are supposed to be. He is to maintain and preside over his family as a consistent figure “and see that his children obey him with proper respect”. Now I have learned that respect is earned and not forced. It is earned over days, weeks, and years of being the father and husband a man should be. Far too many churches suffer because their pastors cannot lead their own families. Their children are disobedient, disrespectful, and disloyal. Paul rightly suggests that “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” And the answer is that he can’t. Pastors should have families that reflect their Godly leadership and not their sinful tyranny. An overseer must direct his family well!
EXAMPLE: Families are like symphonies. There are highs and lows, sometimes they can be fast-paced or slow but they are always on the verge of reaching a crescendo. The beat goes on. And like a symphony a family needs a conductor to make sure all the participants are in sync. Paul knew that the church was like a family and needed someone to direct, lead, and keep it safe. Paul knew that an overseer must direct his family well!
Just as we would not want a brand new graduate that has had not been an intern and assisted in surgeries do heart surgery on us for the first time we should not want someone that has not had some kind of experience or background in ministry, preaching, and leading to be our pastor. Plus we should want a surgeon that has a good reputation just as a pastor ought to. In fact, Paul writes that…
III. An overseer must be well thought of! (Vv. 6-7)
He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.
1. How a pastor walks within their personal relationships is important but so is how they are seen in the community around them. Also, in order to be well-acquainted with spiritual teaching and spiritual matters one should have some kind of track record. You can often hear or read it in the immature wisdom of the newly indentured seminary student as they express their myriad of theological opinions they have recently been exposed to. In other words as Paul would write, “He must not be a recent convert”. And there are several reasons for this: “he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” Of course Paul is referring to the conceitedness of Satan whereby he thinks of himself as an equal with God! How his knowledge and standing corrupted his very nature and made him into the evil and corrupted being he is. The Devil forgot he was created and not the Creator! Mankind can do this as well. Paul saw this in the edicts of the Roman Emperors his world had to deal with in viewing themselves as gods – kind of like Congress. Overseers in the church should never ever see themselves as above their congregation or the community they minister to. In fact this is why I am glad that a lot of pastors are electing to preach from the main floor of their churches rather than being “high and lifted up”. This was and is from medieval times whereby the congregation was to be separated from the minister and the minister “above” his flock! They would even elevate the pastor and he would climb a special stairway to his pulpit! However, Paul reminds us that the pastor should also be seen in his community as approachable and writes that “He must have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.” Paul writes that an overseer must be well thought of!
EXAMPLE: Abraham Lincoln said that “Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” Joseph Hall a 15th century English preacher wrote that “A reputation once broken my possibly be repaired, but the world will always keep an eye on the spot where the crack was.” And my dad reiterated that “our reputation is what others think of us but our character is what God knows about us.” In his letter to his friend Timothy Paul wrote that an overseer must be well thought of!
An overseer must be well-balanced! An overseer must direct his family well! An overseer must be well thought of!
This article is copyrighted © 2017 by Lee Hemen and is the sole property of Lee Hemen, and may not be used unless you quote the entire article and have my permission.