1 Timothy 3:1-7 Before God makes the ministry, He makes the minister
1 Timothy 3:1-7
It is a trustworthy statement:if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do. 2 An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money.
4 He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity 5 (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), 6 and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. 7 And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.
Paul lays down the criteria for the office of overseer, to which all who aspires to it must measure up. As the goal of ministers and leaders is to install godly virtues and values system in their world, they must first be exemplary of the values they profess. In today’s devotion, we learn the importance of acquiring the right motives in pursuing the high office of leadership. And before God makes the ministry, He makes the minister.
If any man aspires to the office of overseer…
God holds no prejudices against men and women who aspire to high office of leadership. Overseer, (episkope in Greek), is the office that oversees the general integrity and wellbeing of the church or organisation concerned. In fact, Paul does not appear to discourage such ambitions but welcomes it: it is a fine work he desires to do. However, those who seek the office of leadership must make right their motives and exemplify the ways of Christ.
An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,…
Even though Paul did not explicitly push back on such ambitions, he attaches strict criteria to the office holder that must be upheld with utmost seriousness. He provides a succinct list of essential virtues:
- above reproach – an impeccable track record, well tested over a period of time and proven in various positions while being exposed to the rigors of life.
- the husband of one wife – this is the virtue of faithfulness towards God and towards his wife. The overseer must prove himself to have overcome the lure of sexual temptations.
- temperate – this means being level headed and composed all the time, not given to lapses of sin and addictions. A temperate person does not give the devil a window of opportunity to tempt him.
- prudent – this as apposed “temperate” describes the inner state of the person who rests steadfast in the virtues of the Spirit, and not given to fleshly urges.
- respectable – connotes characteristics that evoke admiration, high regard and approval.
- hospitable – the virtue of servitude, of being warm, friendly, personable, gracious, and approachable.
- able to teach – this calls for a level of personal authority, and understanding of the truth, enabling him to teach the truth in a credible and systematic manner.
- not addicted to wine – he has no fleshly addictions that causes him to lapse into sin. A person who is addicted to either wine, pornography, envy or vengeance is unreliable and unpredictable. Addiction is a condition where his actions and thoughts are under demonic influence and bondage.
- gentle – this relates to the virtues of patience, empathy, and tolerance, giving people space to make mistakes.
- peaceable – not easily provoked, and not contentious.
- free from the love of money – not given to greed for material possessions.
He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity.
Paul, having supplied a list of essential characteristics inherent in the office of overseer. He reinforces the list with an approved life and good witness:
- manages his own household well – The word “manages” (proistemi in the Greek) refers to leading with truth and grace. The overseer must be able to lead his family in exhibiting the virtues of God, not in a high-handed way, but in an empowering manner.
- keeping his children under control with all dignity – the literal translation should be: keeping his children under submission with all reverence for authority. The overseer must be able to raise his children who are obedient who show respect towards all authorities. An overseer’s effectiveness can be evaluated by the testbed of his own family. If the spouse and the children would respect him and love him, it tells a lot about his examplary lifestyle and love towards them.
- and not a new convert – “new convert” means newly planted in the christian community, it does not explicitly refer to one who is new to the faith. One may be spiritual and mature in appearance, but a new plant, unfamiliar to the local community. We can safely say that a new believer is more susceptible to pride and arrogance if given prominence prematurely. Pride is a state where a man no longer recognize God’s lordship over him. James 4:6 says that God repulses the proud and exalts the humble. Appointing one into leadership prematurely causes him to reject God as Lord and fall into the same judgment as the devil (as opposed to incurred by the devil).
- he must have a good reputation with those outside the church – The one under consideration for the office of overseer must possess an impeccable reputation with all people having been tried by the common temptations of men. Appointing a person prematurely to leadership will only subject him to a myriad of traps, whose end will be irreparable disgrace for the individual and for the church.
Before God makes the ministry, He makes the minister
Many are enticed by the trappings of high office and leadership, supposing that may help elevate their stature towards greatness. In some countries, the office of mayor or pastor seems to be the logical choice if one wishes to climb the social ladder. For such, ego as oppose to mission is the main driver for their bold ambitions. As a result, many nations, organisations and churches are laid waste by such leaders. Even as Paul welcomes holy ambitions, people must seek the office with genuine desire to do good: it is a fine work he desires to do. All ministries rise and fall with the character and motives of the ministers.
The goal of a leader in general or a minister of the church is to install God’s values system in the community and in due process, establishes the kingdom of God. However, the work of a minister of a church differs from that of a leader of a company, in that it has ramifications that extend beyond the physical realm and beyond his lifetime. A commercial company is concerned with the temporal things of the world, but the church is concerned with the souls of people and their eternal destiny. Hence, Acts 20:28 charges church leaders and overseers to pay careful attention to themselves and to the wellbeing of the flock,
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
What does it mean by paying careful attention to yourselves? Leadership works in being a model of Christ that others can emulate. Paul says, “Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ.” 1 Corinthians 11:1. Godly virtues and values system cannot be taught, but it can be caught through observing another person who exemplifies Christ. That is why before God makes the ministry, He first makes the minister. The church’s preoccupation with the right outreach strategy, the supernatural manifestations, an effective public relations machinery means nothing without ministers who emulate Christ. Now, the virtues of Christ-likeness that leaders (especially the overseer) must possess are… the husband of one wife – faithfulness, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. What makes the church so attractive to the world is not the prospect of blessings and salvation, but the virtues and glory of Christ reflected by the ministers and believers.
Therefore, as all leaders must give an account to God for their work (see Hebrews 13:17), leadership (both in a church and in a commercial establishment) is not to be coveted for selfish reasons, for such will incur a stricter judgment. James warns,
Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment. James 3:1
The ultimate responsibility of a leader (especially of the overseer) is to be exemplary, and in so doing inspire the flock towards Christ-likeness. Nevertheless, however demanding the work of a shepherd is, his reward is the crown of unfading glory (see 1 Peter 5:4). Jesus speaks of great reward for those who have made great sacrifices for the advancement of the kingdom,
And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life. Matthew 19:29
The office of overseer has great rewards. But first, God will refine the man in His own image and make him a minister before making his ministry.
Personal authority must form the basis of positional authority
Paul, in his list of criteria for the high office of overseer makes no mention of managerial or people skills. While it is important to learn to lead efficiently and being savvy around the organisation, the leader’s success ultimately hangs on his personal authority. Personal authority as opposed to positional authority is derived from the stature one has with others because of his behavior, values, treatment of others and morality. One with positional authority may carry a title and a responsibility but may not operate according to justice, mercy and humility. A superior may possess executive powers but lack respect, trust and true followership of the people.
An organisation that operates predominantly on positional authority will not be able to provide an environment that promotes trust, loyalty and creativity among her employees. In fact, such organisations are often plagued by in-fighting at all levels with each vying for his personal benefit. Where there is an absence of clarity and unity, no amount of training, fresh injection of financial resources, or ground breaking ideas can make a difference. Unless the overseer of the organisation restores justice, trust and unity of vision, one can only watch while the organisation plateaus and declines.
Nothing is more inspiring than seeing a leader put the interests of the company and the employees above his own. Nothing is more reassuring than seeing a leader walk in integrity and being respected by his own family. Nothing is more motivating than seeing a leader lower himself to the level of his employees and identify with their struggles. In order for organisations and churches to transcend their current limitations and overcome insoluble challenges, leaders must relook at the fundamentals and ethos of their character and personhood.
What are your goals in the capacity of a parent, as cell leader, pastor or manager of a company? Many parents focus on their children’s academic pursuits instead of being an example themselves. Husband and wife often fight and argue with each other while rebuking their own children for their unruly behaviour. Cell leaders and pastors use the church as a source of their personal significance without paying due attention to their motives. Managers prioritising their personal advancement above the development of their subordinates. Perhaps, it is timely to distant ourselves from our work and ministry and relook at the posture of our hearts. Before God raise up the children, He raise up the husband and the wife. Before God prospers your ministry, He refines your character. Before God blesses your career, He purifies your heart.
Dear Lord, I thank you for creating me with a purpose and calling. As I continue to be faithful to the tasks ahead, refine me and mould me for leadership in my work and in my church. Fill me with your Spirit and imbue me with the virtues of Christ. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.