The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer 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, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. 1 Timothy 3:1-7
The word translates as “overseer” in the ESV Bible is the Greek work episkopos which is also translated bishop in other translations. Today we don’t necessarily think of a bishop as being over a single church but over multiple churches in an area. In the time of the early church the apostles would appoint a bishop over the local church. Today we uses the criteria in today’s verses for anyone who leads a church, a pastor, minister or even a bishop. Most of what Paul writes to Timothy as the criteria are straight forward and not in the least bit controversial. However, I have seen two areas in which there can be substantial disagreement.
The first is “not a drunkard”. How a church comes down on this issue seems to be at least as much cultural as it is a religious issue. In many cultures drinking beer or wine is perfectly acceptable. Others consider all consuming of alcohol to be wrong. Paul seems to take the drinking of alcohol as a fact but warns about having men in a leadership role who drink to excess. However you may come down on this subject one needs to remember that your actions reflect Christ. We always need to act in a way that will not lead others astray.
The second issue is in interpreting the overseer to be the husband of one wife. Many churches take this to mean that if a man has been divorced and remarried then he cannot lead. Some may even take this to mean that a widower who remarries should not serve. Churches are also starting to look at this criterion in its historical setting. During this time many Gentile men had multiple wives. Since Paul was ministering to the Gentiles he may have wanted to warn against this practice and keep men with multiple wives out of church leadership. If a church takes this latter stand then they need to look at the reason for the divorce when considering a man for leadership.
Regardless of how a church comes down on these issues Paul writes a list of qualifications that will lead us in picking Godly people to lead our churches. And the bottom line is that we need Godly men and women stepping up in leadership roles.
Have a blessed day,