1 Timothy 3:6-7
Qualifications for Overseers
Paul ends this passage with two more qualifications for pastors. The first is that an elder must not be a recent convert—someone only recently born again. This tells us that the word “elder” does not mean “senior citizen” as older people can be reborn as well. An elder is not even one who has been a Christian for many years; nothing is so sad as to see people who have been Christians since childhood but who never grew in the faith. An elder is one who has been a growing Christian for a number of years—one who has applied his faith to his life and lived godly and blamelessly. Such a man oozes virtue and the fruit of the Spirit. He has endured suffering and conquered temptation. He continues in the disciplines of Scripture reading and meditation, prayer and good deeds. He is a pillar in his church and provides wise counsel, a man of peace and discernment. Again, it is not that a man in his twenties or thirties can’t acquire such a character (and many have), but it is acknowledged that such a godly character generally requires time to develop. The consequence of rushing men to the office under discussion is that they might become conceited—a telltale sign of immaturity—and “fall into the condemnation of the devil”; that is, the condemnation the devil received for his rebellion against the Almighty. Evangelicals are known for doing just this thing—rushing new or young converts to the front of the line, particularly if they are popular figures, and showing them off as models, only to watch them collapse a few years down the road. They needed maturation not adulation; the fault lay with those who wanted to so use them.
Moreover, the Apostle says that the overseer “must be well thought of by outsiders” (i.e., unbelievers). We must be careful how we understand this. Paul is not saying that an overseer must know how to compromise before the world or rub elbows with the mighty for the sake of worldly gain or just “getting along.” Pastors can do too much of this. Instead, Paul is saying that the pastor must be known by outsiders as the kind of man he has been describing, that is, a man of principle. Unbelievers may not like the man; chances are that if he is living a godly life (which should be a given), they will not like him. But they will respect him. They will know him to be gracious and kind, but they will also know him as godly and sincere, taking stands for righteousness and justice regarding community concerns. Still, pastors must know that their first concern must always be the church and not the community, for it is His Bride they are sent to serve, that he may equip them as missionaries sent out into the community for witness.