Christ’s Gift to His Churches
1 Timothy 3:1-7
Primary Truth Taught- The Elder is to be a man called and equipped by God to serve His church by building up the body to maturity.
We’ve journeyed so far from Chapter one’s emphasis on Truth and Apostolic doctrine to Chapter Two’s theme of biblical public worship, the Apostle Paul now turns our attention to the importance of qualified shepherds/overseers of the church. If God is to receive maximum glory, His Word must be taught resulting in biblical worship. So, we can see why he highlights what type of men God desires to lead His churches.
We enter a two-part section in 1 Timothy, which covers the qualifications of those who should serve in church leadership. This first part covers the qualifications of overseers or as we might call them, elders. The second part will cover the qualifications of deacons in the Church.
You might be wondering why we would devote two weeks covering this material? There are at least three reasons this material is very important to each and every one of us here today:
The first reason is that it is God’s Word. Since God sees this as fitting to be included in the Bible we too must acquaint ourselves with the truths contained here.
The second reason is Paul makes it clear in Titus 1:5 that elders are to be appointed in every church started in every city.
Titus 1:5 (ESV)
5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—
So elders in churches are clearly something very important to God. It is important for the life of a local congregation. And for that reason it’s appropriate for us to spend a sermon on elders.
Thirdly, in Ephesians 4:11-12, Paul makes it clear that Jesus gave officers to the church as gifts of grace.
Ephesians 4:11–13 (ESV)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ,
Among those officers are elders, pastors, and teachers. Now, when Jesus gives you a gift, you need it. Jesus doesn’t give unnecessary gifts, and if He gave the gift of officers to the church, He must think that His church needs officers.
So, Paul has left Timothy with the same task as Titus, namely, to appoint elders in the Church of Ephesus. The difference is that probably Timothy had to take steps in removing some elders who were not qualified. How would you like to have that job?
Woodrow Wilson, after his presidency, was asked what the greatest honor had been in his life. You know what his response was? To be an elder in the Presbyterian church. That was his response. He’d been President of the United States, the most powerful person in the world. To be an elder in the Presbyterian church, he considered to be the greatest honor and privilege of his life.
Human Need Met
1 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV)
3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. 7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
It is very clear from the Bible that God intends His churches to have pastors. The word here in verse one translated as overseer is episcopas which come the titles such as overseer, shepherd, pastor, and elder. All these titles are for the most part interchangeable. Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey was in part about appointing overseers or elders to the churches…
Acts 14:23 (ESV)
23 And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Then, we’ll see later that now it is the Holy Spirit who assigns elders to the churches.
Acts 20:28 (ESV)
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
The point is, God desires that all His churches be lead by elders.
Paul’s first point that we should focus on is that the office of overseer is not a status symbol or a title that one should seek out rather it is the task one should seek out. Here Paul stresses the task rather than the office.
I know of elders who are not engaged in the work of being an elder but they desire the status of being an elder. To this, the Apostle offers a caution.
This is the second trustworthy saying Paul gives us in this letter…
1 Timothy 1:15 (ESV)
15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
Paul calls the office of overseer a noble task. Here, the Greek could easily be translated good work. This is a connecting point to last week’s text.
1 Timothy 2:10–11 (ESV)
10 but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works. 11 Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness.
This is very much a comparison and contrast connection here. Just as women are not to exercise authority and/or teach men so, the Elder is to exercise authority and teach everyone. For men who have been called, the task or work of serving as an elder the way Paul lays it out is a noble task or literally a good work.
God desires every church to be lead by qualified men. This was why Titus was left in Crete and why Timothy was left in Ephesus, to seek out called men and enlist them as overseers.
We are given a rather long list of qualifications, which God requires for all who would desire the noble task of serving His church as an elder.
These character traits listed in the next few verses served Timothy and should serve us as an Elder checklist.
2 Therefore an overseer must be above reproach,
Because the work of an overseer is a noble task and I would add a public task the overseer must be above reproach. This above reproach is an overarching phrase which will take in the eleven qualities an elder should possess. So, he’s going to explain the qualities that make one above reproach.
the husband of one wife…
This has been misinterpreted over the years, some say Paul meant that the elder had to be married and that single men cannot serve as elders. Others say this disqualifies someone whose wife has deceased. Others say this disqualifies someone who has been divorced and remarried in every case.
What this phrase means is that this is the man and husband who is committed to his wife and is not one who is always looking around at other women or flirting…literally, means a one woman man. So, under certain circumstances a divorced man can still qualify and serve.
sober-minded,- Literally means free from excessive rashness. We might say not a hot-head or not one who flies off the handle.
self-controlled – here he is self-controlled and not controlled by others or by sin.
respectable,- Those he is serving have respect for him. This will greatly add to his credibility.
hospitable,- He shows others hospitality. Opens his home to others and/or cares for other’s needs.
able to teach,- He can teach others. Has as one of his gifts teaching. This does not mean preaching in front of the church because not all elders have that ability but it does include teaching on an individual basis.
These are some positive traits, now he goes into a few things elders should not be:
not a drunkard, an elder cannot be prone to drunkenness. This is part of being self-controlled.
not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, most scholars put these two together. The false teachers were guilty of stirring up strife and confusion and entering into quarrels. Not so for the overseer called by God to serve the church.
not a lover of money. This too was a vice of the false teachers in Ephesus who loved money and popularity. Their teaching was to gain notoriety for themselves and along with that wealth. Again, the overseer must not be prone to love money because this might cause him to teach something other than God’s Word.
4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?
Here again, we’ve had various views…does this verse mean every elder has to have children? No it does not. It means that the man aspiring to the noble task should know how to care for and rightly manage those within his home. If he cannot handle that then why would he think he can handle managing those in the church?
6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.
An overseer should be mature in the faith. This is not speaking of mature in years but mature in Christ.
7 Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.
His reputation must be good outside the church as well. He should be look at and even respected in the community, even lost people who have dealings with this man should respect him…they might not agree with him and his beliefs but still have a level of respect.
A study of the Book of Ephesians teaches us that the office of elder is Jesus’ gift to His bride, the church…
Ephesians 4:11–15 (ESV)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
So, what Paul wrote to the Ephesian Church is that Jesus has given overseers/elders to His churches for the purpose of equipping them in the knowledge of the Son of God so that we can be united in Christ. We could say it like this…the task of the elder is to teach truth and help the church apply that truth in order that the entire body of believers knows Christ better and follows Him more closely.
to equip the saints
for the work of ministry
for building up the body of Christ,
So the task is more than just teaching. It is teaching in such a way as to equip the saints then to be able to go out and do ministry. So that the entire church is being built up in Christ…we do this task until the world is filled with the glory of Christ.
In other words, the noble task is not finished until Jesus returns.
To the Elders-
Are you accomplishing the noble task here at Grace? Are you working hard to build up your families into maturity in Christ? Do you desire the hard work or the status? Is there anything that Paul presents here that you need to spend time praying about? How are you measuring up to these qualifications?
To the Church…
Are you submitting to and applying the teaching of the elders? Are you teachable? Are you taking hold of the truths and making them a part of your life? Are you doing your part to be filled with Christ and unified with all the believers here?
The fact that Jesus would give elders like this to the church is a witness to His love for and concern for you. Let me tell you why. One of the most common objections to Christianity that comes from those who do not embrace Christ by faith is that ‘the church is filled with hypocrites.’ And isn’t it interesting that Jesus said to His people that the people that are going to be leading the church in teaching, evangelism, discipleship and witness to the world, are going to be people that the world can’t say that about? You can’t say, “Well, you’re just a hypocrite,” because they’re not. They’re different. The things that they say with their lips are backed up by their lives.
Elders within the church is a witness of Christ’s love to you. Because Christ is saying, “I’m going to put a man in your life who you can’t write off as a hypocrite. You can’t say ‘aw, that’s a bunch of talk’–because his life bears a moral quality that proves that a divine supernatural work of grace has been done in his life.” And so you’d better listen, and listen well. You see, that’s love from Jesus Christ to you. And it’s a love that is designed to remind you that the problem in this world is not hypocrites in the church. The problem is you. The problem is all of us, because we’re sinners, and we need a Savior. And these men, these elders, can testify that they, too, were sinners, and Christ has saved them and changed them. And their lives back up that message.
* Resources used…
Bible Speaks Today 1 Timothy by John Stott
The Letters to Timothy and Titus by Towner
Sermon by Ligon Duncan
1 Timothy by Gordon Fee
 Sermon on 1 Timothy 3:1-7 by Ligon Duncan