When is the Ambition of the Overseers, a Noble Desire

May 12, 2019 | Speaker: Pastor Jurem Ramos

1 Timothy 3:1


Many of the ideas I will share with you are from Alexander Strauch, Biblical Eldership and from John MacArthur.

  When most Christians hear of church elders, they think of an official church board, lay officials, influential people within the local church, or advisers to the pastor. They think of elders as policymakers, financial officers, fund raisers, or administrators. They don’t expect church elders to teach the Word of God and be involved pastorally in the lives of people. [This is the reason why some people want to be Elders. They think that the position of Elder will give them the 4Ps: power, prestige, popularity and peso!]   But such view and ambition not only lack scriptural support but contradicts the New Testament Scriptures. According to the New Testament, elders aren’t just board members of a religious corporation with whom the pastor cautiously consults. They are not honorary positions bestowed on individual who have attended church faithfully or who are senior in years. Nor are they board positions to be filled by good friends, rich donors, or charismatic personalities.   On the contrary, elders lead the church, teach and preach the Word, protect the church from false teachers, exhort and admonish the saints in sound doctrine, visit the sick and pray, and judge doctrinal issues. In biblical terminology, elders shepherd, oversee, lead, and care for the local church.   And if one’s ambition is to be involved in that kind of spiritual service for the church, then that desire is a noble desire.     Last week, I gave you a general introduction regarding Elders. We learned that elders, pastors, overseers, bishops, shepherds are interchangeable terms that refer to the same leadership position in the church. We saw why these church leaders are called elders or overseers instead of senators, mayors, or councilors. The term “elders” is influenced by the Jewish concept of elders in the OT and “overseers” is by the Greek culture. We also saw in general what the responsibilities of elders or pastors are.   Today, as we continue our study of Elders, we are going to look at Paul’s instructions found here in 1 Timothy chapter 3 although our focus will only be on verse 1. We will be looking more closely at the issue of ambition or desire to be an overseer.   I hope that by the end of this lesson those who have a desire for the office of overseer will receive confirmation in their hearts whether they are being called by the Lord to this noble task or not. They are not going to get all the confirmation they will need from this one lesson but they will have at least one confirmation, a more subjective confirmation.   Again, as we always do, before we get into our text, we first look at the historical context of this letter so that we could get a better picture of why Paul wrote this portion in the first place.  


  Ideas from Alexander Strauch’s Biblical Eldership (Revised), pp. 182-186.   For three years, Paul labored in the city of Ephesus and established a sound church (A.D. 53-56). When he was about to leave Asia Minor, Paul summoned the Ephesian elders for a final meeting (A.D. 57). Gathered with the elders on the shore of Miletus, Paul solemnly warned the elders to be on guard because savage wolves would soon come. Acts 20 records this apostolic sermon.   Acts 20:28-31  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. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.   Five or six years after this prophetic warning to the Ephesian elders, the church in Ephesus was caught in the deadly grip of false teachers. The letter of 1 Timothy seems to indicate that the heresy had erupted from within the church. Paul’s ominous words had come true: “and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things (Acts 20:30).   Although the church in Ephesus had been governed by elders for more than five years, problems existed within the eldership. Quite possibly unfit men had become elders since Paul had left the church, and some of the elders may have become false teachers. [These] false teachers were poisoning the church with deadly doctrines [that disrupted the entire inner life of the church.] {Apparently, some women had usurped the role of leadership in the church so that it was necessary for Paul to write, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.” (1Ti 2:12).}   Because of the influence of these false teachers, Christians were acting unlovingly toward one another. Some women were flaunting their wealth and newfound knowledge. Exclusive ideas and fighting among men had adversely affected the church’s prayers. Needy widows were forsaken by their selfish families and forced to rely on the church for support. Sin was ignored. But worst of all, the gospel message and its reputation in the unbelieving community was seriously threatened.   In order to stop these teachers, Paul took radical action. He excommunicated the two leading perpetuators, Hymenaeus and Alexander (1Ti 1:19-20). Paul also left Timothy in Ephesus to help the embattled church and particularly to stop the advancement of false teachings: “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1Ti 1:3).   Paul knew that Timothy faced a difficult assignment. He was keenly aware of the tough problems Timothy would encounter … so Paul wrote the letter of 1 Timothy to formally reinforce his verbal instruction to Timothy and to the church. The letter was meant to authorize Timothy to act as Paul’s representative in Ephesus.   A very important part of Paul’s message in this letter was his fresh instruction on eldership.   Ideas from John MacArthur:   All the problems in the Ephesian church were related to the main issue of its spiritual leadership, so it was essential for Paul to give Timothy instruction and encouragement for dealing with that issue forthrightly.   A church is only as godly as its leaders.  Churches that fail to uphold the biblical standard for spiritual leadership will always impact the quality and integrity of a church's ministry.   Quite often a church that is failing to have an impact on the world or that is experiencing strife and conflict within its membership will look to new programming or other peripheral things for answers, when the real issue may be unqualified leaders. That's the first thing to check.   How do you know if you're called to be an Elder or Overseer? In the Bible God sometimes spoke out of heaven or a vision or sent angels to deliver His call. Sometimes the call came directly from Jesus Christ as we see in the NT. Today it is different.   Based on what we see here in 1Timothy 3, there is the subjective aspect and the objective aspect of God’s call. The subjective is here in 3:1:   The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.   “If you sense a strong desire to participate full time or extensively in ministry, that may be God's call to serve Him in that capacity.” (MacArthur)   But in addition to the subjective aspect, there is also the objective aspect of the call which is qualification. All who desire spiritual leadership must also meet the qualifications listed in 1Timothy 3:2-7.   Today, I will focus on the subjective element that is found in verse 1. But what I want us to find out is how we may know that that desire or ambition to be an elder is a noble desire or not. The way we know is by looking at the nature of the calling of the overseer or elder. I will present to you four aspects of the nature of that call and then close with questions that will help us evaluate whether we are called for this position or not.   What is the nature of the call to eldership or the pastorate?


  The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.   The opening words, “The saying is trustworthy” are used only five times in the NT and only in the Pastoral epistles. This means that it didn't come into use until late in the ministry of Paul, and only after the churches had been well established.  
  • 1Ti 1:15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners...
  • 1Ti 3:1 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.
  • 1Ti 4:9 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance. (Referring to godliness as having value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come.)
  • 2Ti 2:11 The saying is trustworthy, for: If we have died with him, we will also live with him;
  • Tit 3:8 The saying is trustworthy. (A reference to the doctrinal summary in vv. 4-7 that salvation is not achieved by human effort or merit but comes through God’s mercy alone.)
  The formula, "The saying is trustworthy” is an expression that gives the idea that what is going to follow is indeed true and reliable, and it is a tried and time-proven truth that can be counted on. It also means that the statement that follows is fully endorsed by all believers and Paul the apostle through the Holy Spirit.   In 1 Timothy 3:1 Paul uses that formula “the saying is trustworthy” for the call to be an elder. This points to the fact that the desire for become an elder or pastor is good but that the office of the overseer itself is a high calling as implied in the description that it is a “noble task.”   The Greek word translated "noble" (kalos) refers to that which is of good or high quality; excellent, honorable, distinguished, good, possessing moral excellence, worthy, upright, virtuous. The work of eldership is excellent, honorable, upright, virtuous, worthy.   That is a high estimate of the pastorate. It is of great value. Many respected pastors consider it to be the most worthy task in the world! For example, Martyn Lloyd-Jones said, "To me the work of preaching is the highest and the greatest and the most glorious calling to which anyone can ever be called.” MacArthur said, “Not every elder is the primary preacher or spokesman in a church, but whatever his role may be, it is the highest calling to which anyone can ever be called. It is indeed a worthy work.”   Some people today enter the ministry with impure motives such as money, job security, or prestige. But perhaps during the early church period, not many aspired to the office of the overseer because during that time, the church experienced much persecution.   The difficulty and loftiness of the ministry are probably what motivated the early church to develop the formula, "The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." (1 Tim. 3:1). It exalts this office and encourages spiritually mature men to seriously consider this office, however difficult it may be.   Bible scholar George Knight makes this conclusion regarding the trustworthy statement formula:   The early Christian maxims provide invaluable insight into what was foremost in the first Christians' thoughts. The fact that the early Christians were prompted to create a special saying about church oversight reveals that they keenly understood the great value of overseers, the difficulties and sacrifices facing the overseers, and their own need for such leaders...how very important this office was considered to be for the life and well-being of the church. . . And this high view of those who rule over the church is seen throughout the N.T. (Acts 15; Acts 20:17ff., esp. 28; Phil 1:1; 1 Thes 5:12,13; Heb 13:7,17).   So that is the first aspect of the call to eldership or the pastorate. It is a high calling.

2. IT IS A restricted CALLING (v. 1b)

  The office of an elder is limited to men. That conclusion is supported by Paul's use of the masculine gender in this context and his instruction on the woman's role in the church.  
  1. The Masculine Gender in the Text
  The pronoun translated "anyone" is in the masculine form, thereby indicating that men are in reference here. In addition, each of the descriptive qualifications listed in verses 2-6 is in the masculine form, and thus refer to men. Furthermore, it is impossible for a woman to be "the husband of one wife" (v. 2). It's obvious that this calling is limited to men.  
  1. The Woman's Role in the Church
  That the call to elder or pastor is limited men is also supported by Paul’s instruction on the woman’s role in the church. In 1 Timothy 2:11-14 we learned that Paul makes it a rule in the church that women are not to teach men nor are they allowed to exercise authority over men. Paul writes, "Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.”   Men and women have equal spiritual privileges, capacities, blessings, and promises, but their roles within the church differ. God has ordained that the men are given the role of overseers in the church as well as in the family. (Comment on the men in the family.)    


  If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.   What does it mean to aspire to the office of overseer? Both words “aspire” and “desires” are related. The Greek word for “aspire” (oregō) is a very strong word and could be translated “to be ambitious.” While the Greek word for “desire” (epithumeō) means “to have a strong desire for.”   Ideas from J. Hampton Keathley III:   In our day, ambition is usually connected with some form of self-seeking motivated by selfish desires. Such ambition in leaders and in any Christian is a curse to be avoided because leaders with such agendas will always end up manipulating and using others for selfish ends. Leaders must heed the warning the OT prophet Jeremiah gave to Baruch in Jeremiah 45:5, “Do you seek great things for yourself? Seek them not.”   But there is a biblical and sanctified ambition and one that is essential to good leadership. So, what is biblical ambition?
  • It is an ambition that has been cleansed of self-seeking, one that seeks only the glory of God and the well-being of others.
  • It is an ambition that seeks not position, praise, power, prestige, and popularity, but service to God and ministry to men.
  • It is an ambition that has at its center the three important Es which define the purpose of the church: the Exaltation of God, the Edification of the body of Christ, and the Evangelization of the lost.
  So, those who are truly called have a God-given ambition or compulsion to serve the flock. That compulsion may be stronger in some than others, but it is present nonetheless.   Why is it important to have this God-given compulsion to oversee and care for the church? This is important because the man who stands behind the pulpit only because he feels coerced into doing so will never be the kind of leader necessary to fulfill the obligations of pastoral leadership. Peter said to the elders in 1 Peter 5:2:   1Pe 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.   Question: What about those who have been selected and duly appointed to become elders of the church but did not initially have the desire to be in that position—are they disqualified? I don’t think so. As long as they humbly accept the position as God’s will and they are willing and eager to serve, then they may serve as elders.     So far we have seen three aspects of the call to eldership or the pastorate:
  1. It is a high calling.
  2. It is a restricted calling.
  3. It is a compelling calling.
  Now let’s look at one more.  


  “the office of overseer” (episkopē)   Oversight of the church is a demanding responsibility. It requires more than ordinary effort. It calls for intensive effort and attention to accomplish. Let’s once more look at some of the pastors or elder's responsibilities. They include the following:  
  1. Leading the church
  1Ti 5:17 “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor.” The Greek word translated "rule" in this verse means “to exercise a position of leadership” Christ gives elders the authority to rule in His behalf using His Word. The church is not to be ruled by its congregation, but by those whom God calls for that task.   1Pe 5:2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly;   Exx: This would include the task of setting up policies for the church as in the work that the elders together with the apostles did when at Jerusalem in Acts 15:6-29.  
  1. Teaching the church
  • 1Ti 3:2 … an overseer must be … able to teach
  • 1Ti 5:17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.
  • Titus 3:9 He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.
  1. Caring for the church
  This meant…  
  • Helping the weak: Acts 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak…
  • Praying for the sick: Jas 5:14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord.
  • Counseling those who struggle.
  1. Protecting the church
  Acts 20:28-31 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. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.  
  1. Disciplining the church
  1Co 6:5-6 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? In the previous chapter (chapter 5), Paul rebukes the Corinthian church for failing to discipline the immoral member. The context implies that this should that this process of discipline should have been initiated by their leaders of the church.   Those responsibilities of leading, teaching, caring, protecting and disciplining belong to the pastors and elders of the church, and they are directly accountable to God for the accomplishment of those assignments. This is why members are to submit to them.   Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account.     Let’s put it together all these four aspects of the call to eldership and I’ll ask some questions to help us evaluate whether we are called to this ministry.   If you think you might be called to the ministry, remember that it is a high calling, restricted calling, compelling calling, and a demanding calling.  
  1. Because it is a high calling, do you see the great value of overseers? Do you see how important this office is for the life and well-being of the church? Since the calling of the pastor or elder requires the highest level of spiritual credibility and maturity, if you aspire this office then make sure that you don't have wrong motives such as money, job security, or prestige. Make sure that your desire for this office is a holy ambition.
  1. Because it is a restricted calling, are you the right sex to serve in that capacity? Are you a spiritually mature male Christian?
  1. Because it is a compelling calling, do you feel a strong God-given compulsion toward the ministry?
  From the human perspective one personally desires the work of oversight, but from the divine perspective, the Holy Spirit's places men in the church as overseers  (Acts 20:28).   A person does not become an elder because of church politics—not because they were just elected by the church or appointed by the pastor or other elders. No. They are elders because they sense the call from God.   Here are some manifestations that the call is from God:  
  1. The Holy Spirit has created within a mature person a burden for the local congregation and love to shepherd the Lord’s people.
  1. If the burden in a person to oversee the local church is really given by the Holy Spirit, it will begin to manifest in his life. He cannot keep it.
  • That person who desires to be an elder devotes much time and energy to care for the saints. There is no such thing as a Spirit-given desire for overseeing without corresponding evidence of sacrificial, loving service. The stronger a man’s desire for eldership, the stronger his leadership and love for people would manifest. (1 Thes 5:12)
  • He finds himself always concerned for the spiritual welfare of the local church.
  • He is always praying for it, that it may grow.
  • He is concerned for members who are falling away.
  • When visitors of the church come, he wants to open his home so that they can have a place to stay.
  • When false teaching is introduced in the church, he has a burden to do something about it.
  • He trains himself to be that kind of person. He prays to God to be qualified. When there is a series of studies regarding elders he feels the pull of the Holy Spirit upon Him to attend and learn. He reads books to grow deep in the knowledge of God, and yet there is humility in his heart, not to lord it over others but just to serve the body of Jesus Christ.
  1. If God is calling a mature male Christian to the office of overseer, the congregation will see the evidence of God’s molding of their character and ministry. They are not just appointed and everyone wondering how they were ever appointed.
  • Ac 6:3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
  • Ac 16:2 [Timothy] was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium.
  1. Because it is a demanding calling, are you willing to take on a great responsibility? God will hold you accountable and you will be publicly disciplined if you sin.
  So, before this study, did you have a desire to be an elder or pastor of the church? Do you sense the Holy Spirit giving you a burden for the church? Do you find yourself being involved in the life of the local church? Does this study confirm something in your heart? As I said this is only one confirmation but it will be an important one.   If our elders are really the elders they should be, then one day, they are going to invite you to be part of the eldership. Please pray that we the Elders will be able to discern who these men are whom God is raising. We need more elders in our church.   There are those who are going to hear this message and some of them are elders or pastors in the church but they are not qualified. Let us pray that they will be willing to step down and give way to those who are truly called of God. May God raise up more qualified elders in His church!