18. The Requirements for Overseers

Meditations in 1 Timothy: 18:  The Requirements for Overseers

1 Tim 3:2,3   Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.

So, in the previous meditation we saw the role of the overseer – shepherd – elder, and so now we go on to consider the following verses that speak of the requirements, the character requirements, for elders or overseers.

Paul starts out, Now the overseer must be above reproach.” (v.2a) Holiness and righteousness are values of the kingdom and so those who lead God’s people must not give even a hint of unrighteousness in their lives. We might say that their lives should be an ‘open book’ so that all can see their purity and holiness of life. Indeed we might say that most of the things that follow are things that are expressions of this first point, they will enable the elder to live a life that is beyond reproach. So the list carries on.

“the husband of but one wife.” (v.2b) There should be no polygamy and the implication is that the elder should not be divorced. The stricture would not exclude an elder whose wife died so he remarried. Neither does it bar a single man. Simply it ensures the elder has not abused the Ten Commandments – “You shall not commit adultery.” (Ex 20:14); it is a call for righteous relationships in accordance with God’s word.

Next come a clutch of single word requirements, the first two being “temperate, self-controlled.” ‘Temperate’ means, not given to excesses. We tend to think of drunkenness but that could also include gluttony. To be temperate you also need to be ‘self-controlled’ for by definition excess means absence of control.

“respectable,” appears in the dictionary as ‘worthy of respect or esteem,  conforming to socially acceptable behavior.’ Remember these are the requirements of a church leader so, yes, he is to be someone who is worthy of respect or esteem, he is to be someone whose behaviour is socially acceptable because he is an ambassador for Christ.

“hospitable,” is about being caring for the needs of those who come to him, perhaps to his home. It is about being a caring and sensitive person, one who produces a ‘feel-good’ feeling in those who come or stay with him.

Then he moves from one the one-word descriptions to a group of brief descriptions. First there is “able to teach.” (v.2c) We saw this in the previous meditation; the elder is to be an upholder, conveyer and protector of the word of God.  Then, as we move into the next verse, these brief requirements are all negatives – he must not be!

First, he must be “not given to drunkenness.” We saw this above when we considered temperate and self-controlled. Remember, there should not even be a glimmer of this in his life that he remains “above reproach.”  There has been a trend in some Christian circles over the past two decades where alcohol usage has almost become a measure of a man’s social maturity. I would prefer the absence rather than the excess, and sometimes the line of what is excess is difficult to draw.

Similarly he must be “not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome.” I put these two together for they so often go together. They link with what has gone earlier.  Violence and being quarrelsome indicate a bad temper and a bad temper is an indication of a man who is not in control of himself.

The last of these short exhortations is that he must be “not a lover of money.” Money is not the problem, but loving it is. When you love money, you want more of it and when you want more of it, you become vulnerable to wrong behaviour – serving the people for money, looking for fame to get more money. It is a slippery path.

Then he moves into areas requiring greater description: “He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?)” (v.4,5) An orderly and blessed family life is an indication of wisdom and grace – and is difficult to achieve sometimes. Yet, says Paul, if you haven’t the wisdom and grace for your own family, how will you have it for the church? A challenging area!

Then he speaks of maturity: “He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.” (v.6) Pride is always lurking there, especially in those who are young in the faith and who have not yet come to that conclusion that comes with maturity, that without Christ you are a mess! Pride is blindness to reality and blindness leads to bad or wrong dealing with God’s people. The role of leader is not for the novice.

Finally, rather like a bookend, holding all the other things together – the first bookend was the fist point, “must be above reproach.”  – comes another guidance pointer that speaks about how outsiders view him: “He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.” (v.7) A good reputation implies he is known by his community and he will be known by his community if he communicates and interacts with his community. In Anglican and Catholic local churches I have seen this often works well, but with so called ‘free’ or ‘new’ churches, leaders often are so busy building the new church that they get little known by the community at large. It is a real difficulty but one to be overcome. All these criteria are vital in the kingdom of God, for God’s leaders.


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