Monday, May 11, 2020

Verse of the Week: I Timothy 3:2


Verse of the Week: I Timothy 3:2

And overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2



We begin our look at the 16 qualifications that Paul lists for those who aspire to be elders. What we see are extremely high standards for the responsibility they will be entrusted to. No one is perfect, or will become perfect in this life, but the goal is there for the elder to work for.

Each of these is written in the present tense in the Greek. They are to be found right now in those who wish to be elders. There should never be a future promise of “I will change” or “I am working on that.” These 16 qualifications are bedrock necessities for the man who wishes to be an elder.


And overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 1 Timothy 3:2

(1) Be above reproach- This most important quality is at the head of the qualifications. This does not mean the man is perfect, for none of are perfect. But that his maturity in faith and confidence in the Word of God is a constant shield to him enabling him to deflect many of the snares that Satan sets for him.

This is the man who it is impossible to bring any charge of wrongdoing if he was brought before a panel of impartial judges. He is not liable to criticism as he would be if he failed in any of these qualities. The overseer must be blameless in his behavior. No one can point a finger at him and accuse him of anything because of the way he lives his life. What people see in him, both in the church and out of the church, is who the man is. His character is blameless.

(2) Husband of one wife- First and foremost this indicates that the elder must be a married man. He is not to be single and not to be living at home. The elders home life, how he leads his wife and children, will be a great measuring rod (though not perfect) on how he will lead the church. Whenever elders are seen in scriptures they are married and have children.

This is a controversial portion of the elder qualifications.  The simple meaning is, “married only once.” There have been two general interpretations of this:

1.       He has never been divorced.
2.       He is the husband of only one wife, in other words not a bigamist.

Dr. Couch comments:
No scholar worth his salt can be dogmatic as to the meaning of this phrase. Since polygamy was still fashionable among the pagans and the Jews (up to the 12th century), more than likely the passage has reference to such practice. As well, coming out of a pagan culture, no elder could have escaped its pollution in his past. More than likely, then, an elder could have been divorced but matured spiritually since and could have held office. Though divorce is tragic, it is not the “unpardonable sin” some make it. Again, using the present tense in Greek, Paul would be saying: “The husband of one wife presently.”[1]

Church Father Theodoret (c. 393-c. 458/466):
And even now, though the Imperial laws forbid men to marry two wives at one time, they have commerce with concubines and harlots. They have said, therefore, that the holy apostle declared that he who dwells in a becoming manner with a single wife is worthy of being ordained to the episcopate… [an elder]”

Church father and translator of the Vulgate, Jerome (c. 347-420) stated in his notes on Titus that many of the church divines (one learned in theology) wrote and taught this was merely to condemn polygamy, not to exclude men who had been married twice.

(3) Temperate- They are sober or well-balanced. The use liquor in moderation. The Scripture never prohibits the use of alcohol. It does however prohibit the abuse and being drunk. HOWEVER, if by drinking you cause a brother to stumble or cause one to sin you are liable. By all our actions our love for our brothers and sisters in Christ, our loved for the unsaved, comes before any exercise of our Christian freedom. Paul writes:

Now we who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of those without strength and not just please ourselves. Romans 15:1
It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles. Romans 14:21

The Greek word, nephalios, meant “not mixed with wine.” They are to be calm and unimpassioned in their mind. They are not the type who fly off the handle or let outside influences control their actions. They keep their mind on God and on His Word as his guide and do not use outside sources as his standard.

(4) Prudent- They are self-controlled or of a sound mind. The elder is someone who follows sound reason. They do not listen to an idea and jump at it. They listen to a proposal, weigh the different factors involved (what are they saying, what does Scripture say, is there precedent in the Scripture) and come to a decision based on what is discovered.

(5) Respectable- The basic meaning of this word is “orderly.” But Greek writers often used it in the sense of being honorable. Both meanings would fit well with our discussion, but honorable seems to stand out in what is being taught about the elder. The elder should walk as he talks. If he speaks out against something, he should not be caught doing the same thing. He is the example for the church.

(6) Hospitable- This is from the Greek word philoxenon, which literally means “loving strangers. This word carries the idea of friend or friendly. Elders were to give a friendly reception and proper fellowship to fellow believers.

The elders are to love those who were strangers in the flesh, but brothers in Christ. This would build upon #3 since wisdom indicates you do not invite all strangers into your home and expose them to your family. If you are not temperate, this qualification could become extremely dangerous.

In the first century Christians avoided public inns. Traveling was not as it is today. Safety standards for the food lodging was word of mouth if anyone had gotten sick or died while staying there. Most inns had a pagan atmosphere and food that had been offered up to the gods or local idols. Traveling believers would seek out Christian homes to stay and enjoy the fellowship of fellow believers. This would cement the lines of fellowship and provide a point of reference should they come back through. The elder was to open up his home to those seeing a place to stay.

One of the byproducts was that believers from all over would get to know each other. The church would learn just how international in character believers in Christ were. Many believers did not travel much more than twenty miles from where they were born. But they could still learn through those who lodged with them what the world outside their knowledge was like.

(7) Able to teach- This is not listed in the qualifications for a deacon. This is the primary function of the elder. Not leading worship, not organizing the church picnic or counting the offering plate. Teaching is their primary focus.

Not merely a readiness to teach is implied here. Though many want to teach not all should teach:

Let not many of you become teachers,[2] my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment [Bema Seat Judgement]. James 3:1

This is not merely a desire to do so, but a calling by God to be a teacher. It is a spiritual power that can only be given through prayerful meditation in the Word of God and the practical application of the truth of Scripture to oneself. As mentioned in #5 if an elder cannot “walk as he talks” he cannot be a teacher.

The elder must be able not only to understand the Word of God but he must be able to communicate it on a level that those under his spiritual care can understand. He must be able to communicate truth to other while at the same time be able to refute those who mishandle the truth. He must be aware of the times and the false doctrines and “holy fads” that are entering the church. An elder must be able to logically communicate, clear, rational, truth that builds a doctrinal framework in the believer.

Paul writes to Titus concerning elders and teaching:

holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, that he may be able both to exhort in sound [healthy] doctrine and to refute [expose] those who contradict. Titus 1:9

The elder must know the word before he can “hold fast” to it. This can only come through study, prayer, and continual immersion in God’s Word. “The teaching” indicates that there were set teachings that were given to all who were under their tutelage. The elder did not just pick out a part of the Bible and go wherever he wished to go. Each word of the Bible contains a meaning and it was the responsibility of the elder to convey that meaning in its appropriate context.

Next week we will examine vv. 3-5. Two great evils of society which we still encounter today.


[1] How to Start a New Testament Church, Dr. Mal Couch, p 14.
[2] Teachers. Since teachers use their tongues (to instruct others) more, they will be judged more strictly.

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