1 Timothy 3:1
What Kind of Men?
The Church of Jesus Christ is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). But as these two offices would not always be with us, God provided that two others should be established and remain that His Church be nurtured and grow to maturity such that the gates of hell never prevail against her (Matthew 16:18). The one office is sometimes referred to as “overseer” or “bishop,” and in other places “pastor” or “elder.” The second is “deacon.” At what point in time this happened is now cloaked in the early stages of Church history and shall probably never be known with certainty. But that it did happen and early on is plain, and so the Church has always cherished these two offices in obedience to her Master.
But who is fit to “oversee” the goings on of the church, to be the watchman for the flock? Who is qualified be “pastor,” which is Latin for “shepherd”? Who should enter the ranks of “elder”? That is what this passage speaks about. With so many in the Ephesian church abandoning a pure heart, a clear conscience, and a sincere faith, arrogantly talking of things about which they knew nothing (1:4-7), Paul says, “This is what a pastor should look like.” Indeed, he focuses not so much on what this man does as what he is. As such, this passage forever remains the standard as the Church of Jesus Christ searches for worthy men to fill this divine vocation.
The Apostle begins by referring to a saying then in the church, that “if anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” There are stories in Church history of men who were drafted into the office, as in the case of Saint Augustine, who is counted the greatest teacher of the Church. But generally, the office is filled as the Church seeks worthy men and as those men answer the call the Lord places upon their hearts. They do not seek the office of overseer out of desire for advancement or accolades, though doubtless this has happened countless times over the course of two thousand years. These men seek the office from an inward compulsion of the Spirit. They desire to serve God’s people. They love the word. They love to pray. They desire a heavenly kingdom over an earthly one. It is not ambition which drives them, but love for the Lord.
Giftedness is important, but note that that is not Paul’s first concern. It is the man himself—his calling and godly character that matters most. These are the men the Church must have, and the men she must seek out.