The Key Qualifications of an Overseer
May 19, 2019 | Speaker: Pastor Jurem Ramos
1 Timothy 3:2a
Therefore, an overseer must be above reproach,
In February 2019, Pope Francis ordered more than 100 bishops from around the world to a summit to discuss the sex scandal within the Roman Catholic church. Under pressure from abused survivors and their advocates, numerous dioceses have publicly identified hundreds of priests accused of abusing children sexually and some of even and raping nuns. “The first extensive report on abuse of women in the Catholic church was in 1994 by an Irish nun. Her report covered more than 20 countries — mostly in Africa, but also Ireland, Italy, United States and the Philippines.” In 2018 there was report of more than 1,000 children who were sexually abused by Catholic priests in Pennsylvania. The report revealed that bishops in the state "weren't just aware of what was going on … they went to great lengths to keep it secret."
It’s easy to point out the speck in the eyes of the Roman Catholics but we evangelicals should also be willing to admit that there is a log in our own eyes and humbly deal with it. I have been in full time ministry since 1983 and over the years I have learned that hypocrisy and immense evil can also exist in pastors.
- I know of a well-known pastor whose pride caused several members to leave his church. In one of their church anniversaries a few years ago, he was reported to have kicked the front row of chairs in the auditorium while angrily scolding the congregation for not inviting more people to attend. Many years ago, this same pastor was disciplined by his leaders for conduct unbecoming a pastor. The reason was because without any sense of shame, he made public his intention to step down from ministry just so that could beat up a church member with a mental problem who wanted to hurt him.
- Some years ago, I was invited to speak at a parenting seminar and after I spoke, someone sent me a note that came from a wife. The note contained a request for prayer and counsel because her husband who was well respected pastor in their community was a practicing homosexual and threatened to harm her if she exposed him.
- Some of those who have transferred to our church did so because of their abusive pastor in their former church. One of them told me that his pastor challenged him to a fist-fight just to settle an issue they had in the church. Another one told me that this same pastor often made side remarks to make his hearers feel guilty for not giving him enough love gift for his dedication services. Because he would not accept correction for his bad attitude their church membership has dwindled from more than a hundred to only ten members. And this pastor still continues to preach.
- One of the more recent reports I have heard was about a church whose senior pastor who was married and with children who had sexual relations with two women in their church. Though he was caught in his sin, he simply left the church so that he did not undergo any church discipline. And all he did was start a new church in the same city.
I mention all this to emphasize that the most important thing that can make or break a church leader is character. When we look at several lists of qualifications and responsibilities of elders as those found in 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:5-9; and 1 Peter 5:1-3 we find that most of the emphasis is on character qualifications.
God wants His spiritual leaders to mirror the character of the Lord Jesus, the good and great Shepherd of the sheep. He has also entrusted to them the sacred responsibility of caring for His people. Sadly, not all spiritual leaders are faithful to those tasks and the results are tragic.
The leaders of the Ephesian church are examples of those who failed to mirror Christ character and to lead in a godly way and this produced evil effects on the congregation.
We have seen this in our study of the background of Paul’s first letter to Timothy. We learned that the occasion of the writing of this letter was when Paul was on his way to Macedonia, he left Timothy in Ephesus to deal with the various problems in the church of Ephesus. These problems were directly related to the failures of the leadership of the church. Some leaders were teaching false doctrine and other things that were only promoting speculations. Some wanted to teach Jewish law without really understanding what they were saying. (1:7). Some women were trying to usurp the authority of the men (2:12). Some men were forbidding marriage and requiring abstinence from certain foods (4:3). Some of the leaders were sinful and in need of public rebuke (5:20), and some sought leadership out of pride or for financial gain (6:4-5).
Consequently, this bad leadership affected the sheep. There were those who attended prayer meetings and yet were harboring ill-feelings towards others. Some of the women were worldly by wearing clothes that were either seductive or flaunted their wealth. Others were so selfish that they did not bother to support the needy members of their families. House servants were becoming disrespectful to their masters. Others had an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words that caused division in the church.
Such problems illustrate the priority of selecting qualified leadership for the church. Whatever the leaders are, the people become. As Hosea said, "Like people, like priest" (4:9). Jesus Himself said, “everyone, when he is fully trained, will be like his teacher" (Luke 6:40
). Biblical history demonstrates that people will seldom rise above the spiritual level of their leadership. (MacArthur).
And so today, we are going to continue in our study of 1Timothy 3:1-7 to look at the qualifications that make a pastor or an elder or the church.
In our last study, we have seen from 1 Timothy 3:1 that the position and function of the overseer is noble and good and so is the desire to be an elder or a pastor, if it comes from right motives. If one aspires to the office of an overseer, not motivated by the 4Ps of power, prestige, popularity and peso, but instead, the 3Es of exalting God, edifying believers and evangelizing the lost, then you have a good desire. If this the motive of a man who wants to be a pastor or elder, then he has one confirmation that he may be called of God into the ministry. But, as I said this is only one confirmation. We need more.
What other things do we need to know to find out whether this subjective
desire to be an elder is truly from God? Here in 3:2-7 Paul provides the objective
qualifications to support the subjective
Let me put it this way. This is how we may know if a person who is aspiring to become a pastor or an elder is truly being called by God. Is this man 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. Does he manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive? Has he been a Christian for a long time? Is he well thought of by outsiders?
These are the qualifications that Paul lists to confirm that the subjective ambition to become an elder or pastor is from God. John Macarthur says,
1 Timothy 3 doesn't list qualifications typical of today's corporate leaders: diligence, foresight, conceptual vision, administrative skills, decisiveness, courage, humor, eloquence, friendliness, tact, diplomacy, and so on. Those human characteristics are helpful in secular situations, but the issue in spiritual leadership is modeling godly virtue.
In examining the objective qualifications of elders, we will begin by looking at the key qualification which is being “above reproach”
(or blameless in the KJV.)
is the overarching characteristic of an elder. The rest of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 2b-7 elaborate what it means to be above reproach. Paul expounds the four areas of life in which an elder must be above reproach: his moral character, his home life, his spiritual maturity,
and his public reputation.
There is some overlapping in these areas, but for the purpose of simplifying the areas, and in order to follow the word markers in our text, I used those headings. This is what I mean by the word markers. Look at the word “must” in our text. Every time this word is used, it introduces an area where a pastor or elder should be above reproach.
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.
And so, following those markers, an overseer is above reproach in
- his moral character (vv. 2-3),
- his home life (vv. 4-5),
- his spiritual maturity (v.6),
- his public reputation (v.7).
We will be looking at the details of these areas as we go through our text. But for our study today, we are only going to focus on v. 2a
and look at the key qualification which is “above reproach.”
I want to say four things about being above reproach that we see or is implied in our text:
- Being above reproach is a must.
- Being above reproach is an excellent quality.
- Being above reproach is indispensable.
- Being above reproach is to be guarded.
I. BEING ABOVE REPROACH IS A MUST
Verse 2 opens with the word “therefore.” Whenever you read this word it means the that following words has some connection with the previous words. The word “therefore” emphasizes the connection between the list of qualifications for the overseers and the office of the overseer mentioned in v. 1. Because the office of the overseer is a noble task, a certain kind of person must be placed there.
The Greek word translated "must" (dei
) emphasizes an absolute necessity: being above reproach is absolutely necessary for an overseer. It is a basic, overall requirement. And as I said, the other qualifications listed by Paul in verses 2b-7 define and illustrate what he means by being above reproach.
Lawrence Eyres, THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH, (pp. 26-27)
This little word “must” has the same force that it has in John 3:7 when Jesus said to Nicodemus, “You must be born again.” In other words, the Scripture is speaking (in both cases) of an essential qualification. New birth is mandatory for those who would enter the kingdom of God; [similarly,] being [above reproach] is absolutely required for those who would assume the office of the overseer. There is no option; the candidate must be blameless.
The “must” belongs to more than just being blameless. This strong little word “must” applies equally to all the 14 qualifications that follow.”
We must remember that it is God who makes men overseers or elders; neither Paul, nor Timothy, nor today’s Church has the least power or right to change the qualifications God has set forth. Our business is to observe the workings of grace in the lives of twice born men, and to judge of their fitness for the office on the basis of all the qualifications given in Scripture.
II. BEING ABOVE REPROACH IS AN EXCELLENT QUALITY
What above reproach means:
- A man who is “above reproach” has a good moral and spiritual reputation. (Some are moral but not spiritual. They are not known to be lovers of the word or servants of God.)
- A man who is above reproach is blameless in the sight of others, both in the secular world and the church. Those closest to him (wife, other church members) believe he is qualified to be an elder?
- Guzik: above reproach (anepilēptos) literally means, “Nothing to take hold upon.” There must be nothing in his life that others can take hold of and attack the church. No one can stand up and rightfully accuse the man of grievous sin.
- A blameless man cannot be taken hold of as if he were a criminal in need of detention for his actions. There's nothing to accuse him of.
- He is free from any damaging moral or spiritual accusations. He lives in such a way that no legitimate accusation could be brought him that would bring disrepute on the gospel or church.
- Often times, it is the seemingly small and insignificant foolishness that can have a devastating effect upon one’s reputation. Even a little folly can bring heavy reproach upon a wise and honorable reputation. (Flirting, cheating, hypocrisy, lack of discipline, lack of integrity)
What above reproach does not mean:
- Eccl 10:1 Dead flies make the perfumer's ointment give off a stench; so a little folly outweighs wisdom and honor.
- Eph 5:3-5 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. 4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
- Phil 2:14-15 Do all things without grumbling or disputing, 15 that you may be blameless and innocent, children of God without blemish in the midst of a crooked and twisted generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world,
- It does not mean that one feels perfect. A man may have a very good reputation outside, but still feel himself to be a great sinner, saved only by grace. Look at Paul. (1Ti 1:15 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.)
Lawrence Eyres, THE ELDERS OF THE CHURCH, p 28
- To be above reproach does not mean that one has led a sinless life. Consider Peter. He denied Christ, yet was restored. He again even sinned publicly in Gal 2:11-13 so that he was rebuked by Paul and yet he later served as an elder in 1Pe 5:1.
“This cannot mean sinless. Rather, we are looking for a man who, though indeed a sinner, habitually strives to walk by the rule of God’s Word.
- A blameless man will not be found doing what he knows is plainly wrong.
- If through ignorance, or for a moment when his guard is down, he does sin, he will repent instantly upon his awareness of having sinned against God.
- Should he give place to sinful anger (and who has never done so?), he will not let the sun go down on his anger (Eph 4:26).
- If he wrongs another in any way, he will not need to be prodded to make right the wrong he has done.
- In a word he will always walk as one who is aware that men will judge Jesus Christ by him.
- And it will be his prayer that men will see Jesus through him.”
I am not saying that an elder or a pastor can fall into any kind of sin and still be restored and remain as pastor. There are certain sins that will forever disqualify a pastor from returning to the office of overseer. When one commits adultery or homosexuality or rape or murder or when he steals money from the church and runs away with the money. Yes, he definitely, he could be forgiven from any sin if he humbles himself before God and makes restitution, but he cannot be restored to the office of an elder. Don’t use David as an illustration because he was not an elder or pastor but a king.
- To be above reproach does not mean to be free from accusation, but accusations that can be rightly proven.
- 1Ti 5:19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.
- Paul was accused of stirring up riots among the Jews and is a ringleader. But these accusations were baseless. In Acts 24:11-13, Paul says to Governor Felix who was handling his case, “You can verify that it is not more than twelve days since I went up to worship in Jerusalem, and they did not find me disputing with anyone or stirring up a crowd, either in the temple or in the synagogues or in the city. Neither can they prove to you what they now bring up against me.”
III. BEING ABOVE REPROACH IS INDISPENSABLE
Why is being above reproach indispensable to spiritual leaders:
- Spiritual leaders must be above reproach because they set the example for the congregation to follow. (1Pe 5:3) He must be a model of godliness so he can legitimately call his congregation to follow his example. ( 3:17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.). As I mentioned a while ago, “whatever the leaders are, the people become.”
- Spiritual leaders must be above reproach because ongoing sin in his life will discredit his ministry making it ineffective.
- Ongoing sin will discredit the reputation of Christ and undermine Christianity.
- If your office mates will know about your appointment as elder and they will say, “Naku, kung ganyan lang and elder sa inyo, reklamador at laging nakikipagdebate at napapaaway.”
- Kung kilala ka na sa inyong subdivision na hindi nagbabayad ng utang.
- Kung kilala sa community na tsismoso.
- Kung laging nababaranggay captain.
- Kung kilalang magulang sa negosyo, at hindi marunong magremit ng SSS ng mga empleyado.
- Spiritual leaders must be above reproach because the sins of a spiritual leader are more hypocritical than the sins of others because it is his business to preach against sin.
The seventeenth century Puritan Richard Baxter in his book, The Reformed Pastor, wrote (with some portions revised to modern English),
Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and… dishonor Him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ's governing power, and yet condemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach his laws, and willfully break them?
If sin is evil, why do you live in it? if it is not, why do you dissuade men from it? If it is dangerous, how dare you venture on it? if it is not, why do you tell men so? If God's threatenings are true, why do you not fear them? if they are false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and frighten them without a cause?
Do you 'know the judgment of God, that those who commit such things are worthy of death;' and yet will you do them? You who teach others, do you not teach yourself? You who say a man should not commit adultery,' or be drunk, or covetous, are you such yourself? “You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.” What! shall the same tongue speak evil that speak against evil? Shall those lips slander and backbite your neighbor, that cry down these and the like things in others?
Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slave yourselves: “For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved.” “if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness' O brethren! it is easier to preach against sin, than to overcome it.
That is a good reminder: we must live what we preach. That's why Paul told Timothy to be sure that church leaders are to be above reproach. Baxter went on to say,
When your minds are in a holy heavenly frame, your people are likely to partake of the fruits of it. Your prayers and praises, and doctrine will be sweet and heavenly to them. They will likely feel when you have been much with God…
When I let my heart grow cold, my preaching is cold; and when it is confused, my preaching is confused; and so I can often observe also in the best of my hearers, that when I have grown cold in preaching, they have grown cold too…
"O brethren, watch therefore over your own hearts: keep out lusts and passions, and worldly inclinations: keep up the life of faith, and love, and zeal: be much at home, and be much with God. … Take heed to yourselves, lest your example contradict your doctrine … lest you unsay with your lives what you say with your tongues; and be the greatest hinderers of the success of your own labors. … One proud, unfriendly, arrogant word, one needless contention, one covetous action may cut the throat of many a sermon and blast the fruit of all that you have been doing.
IV. BEING ABOVE REPROACH IS TO BE GUARDED
Ideas from MacArthur:
It stands to reason that those who lead the forces of truth and light against the kingdom of darkness will experience the strongest opposition from the enemy. I believe the Devil attacks spiritual leaders with more severe temptations than most Christians will ever experience. Faithful leaders are targets of the most subtle insinuations, incessant solicitations, and most violent assaults of the enemy.
It's not coincidental that many pastors fall into sin and disqualify themselves from ministry. Although the fall of any Christian is tragic, the devastation resulting from the fall of a pastor carries enormous implications because of the scope of his ministry. Such a fall would affect untold numbers of believers and non-believers, and malign the faith.
How does a spiritual leader protect himself from the onslaughts of Satan?
(Ideas from John MacArthur)
The answer is threefold: Scripture, prayer, and fellowship.
The best way to be insulated from the attacks of the enemy is to be continually saturated with God's Word.
David said in Ps 119:9-11:
9 How can a young man keep his way pure?
By guarding it according to your word.
10 With my whole heart I seek you;
let me not wander from your commandments!
11 I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you.
Note: Emphasize v. 10. Don’t just read the word. Seek God with the whole heart.
Being continuously exposed to the living Word guards us from sin and makes us pure.
Jn 15:3 Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you.
Tragically, many spiritual leaders allow themselves to be drawn away from God's Word. Perhaps the nature of their ministry doesn't require them to be studying the Word each day, so their lives aren't regularly exposed to its convicting truth. Or perhaps they have grown complacent in their commitment to the Word. If so, they have neglected the strength that comes as God's Spirit ministers through His Word, and have created a serious weakness in their spiritual armor.
Overseers need to pray for themselves.
But the congregation also needs to pray faithfully and earnestly for the strength of its leadership.
Col 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of you, a servant of Christ Jesus, greets you, always struggling on your behalf in his prayers, that you may stand mature and fully assured in all the will of God.
Heb 13:20-21 Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, 21 equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.
In Paul David Tripp’s book, Dangerous Calling
, he repeatedly emphasizes the need for pastors to be accountable. Here is the danger:
“It’s forgetting who you are, forgetting that you are still in need of grace, that you struggle with temptation, that you have weaknesses and flaws. We begin to think those in ministry have reached complete maturity, that we are not in need of accountability, God’s grace or the mirror of the Word of God. The lie of self‐sufficiency says: “I have everything I need in myself and do not need God or others.”
Heb 3:12-13 Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. 13 But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.
Heb 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Spiritual leadership is not for everyone. The church must carefully evaluate all prospective leaders, and install only those who have a strong desire for ministry and who meet the key qualification of being above reproach.