1 Timothy 3:1-7 - Biblical Church Leadership
Ecclesiology - The study of Ecclesia? Ecclesia is the Greek Word for gathering or specifically used as “church in the New Testament.”
An example of this is Galatians 1:1-2
1 Paul, an apostle—not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead— 2 and all the brothers who are with me,
To the churches of Galatia:
1 Timothy 3:1–7 (ESV): 3 The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. 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.
V-1 - First thing to note is that there was apparently another “trustworthy saying” in the early church. To begin, the term overseer here is the Greek word episcope (episcopal) which transformed to the word bishop as it went from Greek to Latin and ultimately to English. This word has the meaning of overseer or supervisor.
This does not mean that Paul is writing to those who aspire to be higher up in the church government (polity) structure. Here are some passages to quickly show that there are actually three terms used in the New Testament to speak about the same office in the church. The three terms are:
• Bishop/Overseer (episcopal)
• Elder (presbyter)
• Pastor (shepherd)
1 Peter 5:1–5 (ESV): 5 So I exhort the elders [presbyters] among you, as a fellow elder [presbyter] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd [pastor] the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight [bishop], not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory. 5 Likewise, you who are younger, be subject to the elders. Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (Emphasis added.)
Acts 20:17–30 (ESV): 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders [presbyters] of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers [bishops], 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. (Emphasis added.)
Titus 1:5–9 (ESV): 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders [presbyters] in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer [bishop], as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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. (Emphasis added.)
So, all three titles are given to explain the same office with the term elders being used most frequently. Notice Pope or Cardinal are not used in Scripture. Likewise, the idea that those who serve the Lord in this role cannot be married is not in the Bible. In fact, we see in Matthew’s Gospel that Peter was married.
Matthew 8:14–15 (ESV): 14 And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15 He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him.
A Few More Clarifications
Elders/Pastors/Bishops are not Deacons. They are different.
Elders/Pastors/Bishops are sometimes referred to as clergy. Clergy is used in the same way in other religions. It is a way of distinguishing between professional (paid and educated) and laity (non-paid and, generally, not formally trained.) Clergy are generally understood as trained and ordained (affirmed) workers or servants in the Christian faith. The term reverend is connected to a respectable way of referring to clergy. Likewise, some denominations use the terms father or reverend father to show respect. Sometimes a qualifier will be added when it refers to those higher up in a denomination’s structure. They will be called right reverend or the most reverend.
In reference to pastors, sometimes terms like associate pastor, assistant pastor, music pastor, executive pastor, or youth pastor are used. These terms are not in the Bible. They have been used by churches to divide up different roles and responsibilities.
There is one division in the Bible among elders/pastors/bishops that is seen.
1 Timothy 5:17–18 (ESV): 17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.”
Sometimes the main elder that is paid and preaches most often is called “the preacher.” This is linked to the idea of a “senior pastor.” Some will argue that James was the senior pastor in Jerusalem. It may be true that the main preaching/teaching pastor may be viewed with more prominence because of his role, but the Bible shows all elders having the same authority. They all get one vote so to speak. He may be the first among equals, but they are still equals.
There seems to be those who are devoted to the preaching and teaching and are paid. These are sometimes referred to “staff” as opposed to “lay” elders or pastors.
Some churches strive to show the difference between the paid and unpaid elders by using the terms “pastors” for the staff or paid pastors and “elders” for the non-staff(unpaid) elders.
One other word that gets used and is confusing at times is the word “minister.” In many places the term would refer to an official, servant, or officer in the political realm. In the religious world, the term is best understood as a servant. Thus, a minister of the Gospel would be a servant of the Gospel. This term comes from Latin. In Greek the term would most likely be diakonos from which we get the term “deacon.” Deacon means servant.
Many times when someone is ordained to Gospel ministry, they are then known as a minister and called “reverend.” Ordaining is when others already in the ministry question you, lay hands on you, pray for you, and appoint you to Gospel ministry. This is not really biblical. Sometimes one is considered “ordained” once they receive their Master of Divinity.
Various Types of Training for Ministry
• Ordained - Person does not have to have or has had little formal education.
• Internships - This is done at churches or in other ministries.
• Bible/Theology Certification - This is done at churches, colleges, seminaries, and other ministries.
• Associates in Bible or Theology (2 Year Degree)
• Bachelors in Christianity/Bible/Theology (4 Year Degree)
• Master of Arts (M.A. in Theology with a concentration) (2-3 Year Degree after Bachelor’s Degree)
• Master of Divinity (M.Div with concentration) (4 Year Degree after Bachelor’s)
• Master of Theology (with concentration) (1.5 Years after Master’s in Divinity)
• Doctor of Ministry (D.Min) with concentration (3 Year Degree after Master’s in Divinity or Theology)
• Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) with concentration (3-4 Years after Master’s in Divinity or Theology)
So, I could be called, “Father, Reverend, Reverend Father, Right Reverend, Most Reverend, Most Right Reverend, Elder, Bishop, Pastor, Billy - Master of Divinity and Minister of the Gospel
Or Brother Billy :-)
V-1 - So, the trustworthy saying is that those who aspire to this office desire a noble task. The task of caring for God’s people is a noble one. It is admirable and honorable to do do such a thing. Paul mentioned that this an office. There are two offices in the church. Elders/Bishops/Pastors and Deacons. We should use these terms because they are Bible terms, and Paul thought they were important. It is important to know who fills these roles so the church can have organization and clarity. Concerning elders, there is an authority they have and the congregants need to know to whom they are submitting.
Hebrews 13:7–8 (ESV): 7 Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. 8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.
Hebrews 13:17 (ESV): 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 them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.
1 Peter 5:1–3 (ESV): 5 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 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; 3 not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock.
The other word that appears in this first verse that we should look at is the word “aspire.” This word means “to reach out for.” It is good and godly for a man to desire to care, protect, and teach the flock of God. Although there is submission and authority, this position is a position ultimately of service. This is different than one being “called.” Calling is a subjective idea that isn’t used here. However, aspiration is not a hunger for recognition or to be in charge, either.
Vv 2-4 - The character qualities of an elder begin and flow for the next few verses.
• Above reproach has a meaning of what I like to call the can’t-be-true characteristic.
• One woman man can be understood in a number of ways:
◦ Never been divorced.
◦ Does not have multiple wives.
◦ Does not commit adultery.
◦ Is defined as a one woman man.
◦ Was the man a believer when divorced?
◦ Was his divorce on biblical grounds? Was it his fault?
◦ Is he remarried?
◦ Has his current wife been divorced?
◦ Was her divorce Biblical?
◦ How long have they been married?
◦ Does this mean single men cannot be an elder?
• “Sober-minded” has an idea of thinking clearly and rightly about things.
• “Self-controlled” has an idea of not controlled by anything other than God’s Spirit.
• “Respectable” has an idea of being a man of his word, thought well of, does what he says.
• “Hospitable” has an idea of generosity. Is this man generous to all with his time, money, and possessions?
• “Not a drunkard” means he may drink but knows when to stop. Other truths about drinking would be true here, too, like legality and being a stumbling block.
• “Not violent, but gentle” does not mean he will not be firm. How does he lead and speak to people? Is he patient? Is he approachable?
• “Not quarrelsome” means he isn’t always looking for a fight or something to debate. He is willing to be wrong and he doesn’t always have to prove his point. He knows how to disagree well.
• “Not a lover of money” means money and material goods are not an idol for this man. He doesn’t see dollar signs when he sees people.
• Does He “manage his own household well”?
• “Cannot be a new convert” refers to anyone who is a newer Christian. Time reveals much. There is no set time of this. Other elders must use wisdom before putting this man forward to the congregation for Eldership.
• “Must be well thought of by outsiders” is similar to respectable, but not only respected by church members. All people may not like or agree with him, but they do respect him because they can find nothing wrong with his conduct.
The apostle Paul has one thing listed that is a skill
• “Able to teach” means that the Holy Spirit uses his teaching/preaching of the Bible to “press down” on people’s souls. It has weight to it, and people understand God and the Bible better when he teaches. He may be gifted at smaller groups or larger groups. There can be varying degrees of gifting and ability. The passage in Titus 1 also adds “defend against false doctrine.” They must be able to correct opponents.
Vv 5-6 - These verses show that Satan will attack elders with the hope that they will fall. Sheep without shepherds is ripe pickings for Satan. Too many have fallen.
How many elders should there be in a church?
Churches should not have elders who aren’t qualified. We do not have elders because we need elders. God will raise men up to serve in this way. They must be qualified biblically. That being said, if there are more qualified men than one, it is best to have a plurality of elders. This is sometimes known as the “council of the elders” or “board of elders.”
“The Bible clearly models a plurality of elders in each local church. Though it never suggests a specific number of elders for a particular congregation, the New Testament refers to ‘elders’ in the plural in local churches (e.g., Acts 14:23; 16:4; 20:17; 21:18; Titus 1:5; James 5:14). When you read through Acts and the Epistles, there is always more than one elder being talked about.” - Mark Dever
Philippians 1:1 (ESV): 1 Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons: (Emphasis added.)
Titus 1:5–9 (ESV): 5 This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— 6 if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. 7 For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, 8 but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. 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.
(Emphasis added.) (Note: churches do exist without elders)
Acts 14:23 (ESV): And when they had appointed elders for them in every church, with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed.
Acts 16:4–6 (ESV): 4 As they went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem. 5 So the churches were strengthened in the faith, and they increased in numbers daily.
Acts 20:17–18 (ESV): 17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them:
Acts 21:17–18 (ESV): 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly. 18 On the following day Paul went in with us to James, and all the elders were present.
1 Peter 5:1–2 (ESV): So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight,
James 5:13–14 (ESV): 13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing praise. 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.
There are other Scriptures that tell us that the idea of many leading is good.
God gives elders to Moses to help lead the people.
Proverbs 15:22 (ESV): 22 Without counsel plans fail,
but with many advisers they succeed.
Proverbs 11:14 (ESV): Where there is no guidance, a people falls,
but in an abundance of counselors there is safety.
A plurality also adds accountability and fosters humility.
There is no exact number of elders, but it seems that a good ratio could be 1 elder to 20-25 members.
What about when an elder is wrong?
Elders are human. That means that there are times that they sin. They, like all Christians, should live a life of repentance. When someone believes there is sin in an elder’s life, they should first follow Galatians 6 and Matthew 18.
Galatians 6:1 (ESV): 6 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV): 15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. 19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
If someone wants to bring a charge about an elder before the church, the following passage should guide the situation.
1 Timothy 5:19–20 (ESV): 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.
When does an elder stop serving?
• Move away
• Does not aspire any longer
• Unwise for them to serve due to sickness or life
• Possibly rest as part of a rotation
Final Thoughts and Application
1. Believe that elders are God’s good gift to churches. They should be biblically qualified and there should be a plurality, if there are qualified men.
2. We should all watch elders and strive to be like them and follow them as they follow Christ. Paul says in Philippians 3:17, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”
3. Listen and submit to those who are over you in the Lord. They love you and are for you. God has put them over you. Go to them and talk to them. Do what they say.
4. Men, strive to grow in these areas and look to serve as an elder.
5. If you are not under any elders because you are not a member of a church, you need to join a church and submit to the elders/pastors in that church.
6. If your church does not have a plurality of elders, consider sharing these truths with your current pastor and leadership and try to help the church be more biblical.
7. Know the requirements listed in Scripture and make sure that your current elders continue to meet these requirements. If not, handle it biblically.
8. Know the requirements and let the elders of the church know if you think other men fit these qualifications.
9. Call the elders to pray for you if you are sick.
10. Pray for the elders and their families for wisdom and protection from the evil one and tiredness.
11. Share all things with them. Paul says in Galatians 6, “Let the one who is taught the word share all good things with the one who teaches.”
12. Thank the Lord for them and thank them for loving and serving you.
13. Always look to the Chief Shepherd, as elders are simply under shepherds.
This sermon and the entire sermon series were influenced and impacted by the following commentaries, Bibles, books, teachings and sermons. I am so very grateful for the insight and ministries of those involved with each. Likewise, I am thankful for the insights and input from those who attend the sermon preparation time at FBCCK.
NIV Compact Bible Commentary - John Sailhammer
The Message of the New Testament - 1 Timothy - Mark Dever
The Letters to Timothy and Titus - The Pillar New Testament Commentary - Robert Yarbrough
The Pastoral Epistles - Tyndale New Testament Commentary - Donald Guthrie
1&2 Timothy and Titus - Preaching the Word Commentary - Bryan Chapell and R. Kent Hughes
1 Timothy - Reformed Expository Commentary - Philip Ryken
Does God Desire All to Be Saved - John Piper - Podcast
The Different Wills of God - R.C. Sproul aArticles on Ligioner
ESV Study Bible
HCSB Study Bible
John McArthur Study Bible
Topics for the Prayer Time
*Those who have yet to believe in Jesus
*The unreached peoples of the earth
*Missionaries around the world and for more to go0
*The spiritual growth of other believers and churches
*That you would have more spiritual gifts
*That Christians would remain faithful under persecution
*Those who are sick
*Those who have lost loved ones
*Our nation, leaders, military, and civil servants
*Pray for the health and salvation of the unborn babies in our church
*Pray against the evils of abortion and human trafficking
*Pray for the University of Florida international students
*Pray God would bless our efforts to in evangelism and discipleship
*Pray God would bless our community
*Pray God would bless the churches of those visiting us