1 Timothy 3:1-7 – The Character of Church Leaders
Who should lead the church? It’s a question Paul and Timothy faced, and it’s a question still very much relevant today. The reputation of the church stands and falls on the integrity of its leaders.
First, Paul talks of ‘overseers’, ‘superintendents’ or ‘bishops’ (‘episkopos’). Initially, these were probably the same as those referred to elsewhere as ‘elders’ (‘presbuteros’), having leadership in the towns in which they lived (cf. Titus 1:5). The notion of eldership goes back to Moses appointing seventy men in the wilderness to help control and care for the people (Numbers 11:16). Every synagogue had elders, responsible for presiding at worship, disciplining errant members and settling disputes that other nations would have dealt with in law courts. Elders were respected men who exercised fatherly oversight of the spiritual and material affairs of every Jewish community.
So how did ‘presbuteros’ become ‘episkopos’? The answer lies in the growth of the church. As churches expanded, each town’s elders would have chosen a first among equals who would have been known as the ‘episkopos’. The word ‘episkopos’ implies both oversight and responsibility to some higher power or authority. These overseers were set apart for their office and appointed to their task (Titus 1:5).
Probably, like deacons, overseers had to be tested (1 Timothy 3:10). Paul certainly says that an elder should not be a recent convert in case they become conceited (v.6), suggesting that they need time to prove their character and maturity. Many overseers were involved in teaching and preaching (1 Timothy 5:17), and they were to be held accountable by their congregations (1 Timothy 5:19-20). Here in 1 Timothy 3, Paul gives the list of attributes they must possess. They must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive.” Being above reproach (‘anepileptos’) is being a person against whom no criticism can be made. A leader must be “well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil” (v.7).
All of us who are pastors or elders would do well to remind ourselves of the character we are called to exhibit. Paul clearly and understandably expects leaders to be an example to their congregations. The management of one’s own household can be challenging, but essential if we are to effectively lead “the household of God” (1 Timothy 3:15).
In short, leaders must have a faith that demonstrably impacts their lives. The reputation of the church stands and falls on the integrity of its leaders. We cannot preach one thing, and live another. May God give us grace!