Trustworthy Statements Series
“The Office of Overseer”
I Timothy 3.1-7
Last Lord’s Day we began a five-part series entitled “Trustworthy Statements.” Five times
in the Pastoral Epistles, which includes the books of I and II Timothy and Titus, the Apostle
Paul uses this little phrase “it is a trustworthy statement” to indicate a statement or saying
that had developed in the early church during the first century and used in public worship
services. What is interesting is that Paul incorporates five of these trustworthy statements
into the inspired pages of holy Scripture.
Last week we looked at the brief and concise statement of the gospel when the Apostle
wrote, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into
the world to save sinners.” (ITim.1.15) You remember how they used to recite it in the early
church? The pastor would say, “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance.” And
the congregation would respond, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” You did
such a good job last week, let’s recite it again.
The Apostle Paul had sent Timothy, his faithful companion and spiritual protégé, to be the
pastor of the church of Ephesus, a church that Paul knew and loved very much. Paul was
inspired by the Holy Spirit to write the book of First Timothy to provide Timothy, and us by
God’s providence, with pastoral instructions concerning the work and ministry of the local
church. Timothy would have learned his theology directly from Paul while traveling with
him on his missionary journeys, but Timothy lacked experience when it came to pastoring a
church, so Paul sent him some instructions. Also, Paul’s letter would have been read aloud
in the worship service so the entire congregation would understand how a church was to
As you study the book of I Timothy you discover that chapter one of First Timothy focuses
on a pastor’s greatest task. To preach and teach the gospel and therefore this is where we
find the first trustworthy statement, “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” (1.15)
In chapter two Paul gives instructions about public worship and prayer writing, “I urge
that entreaties and prayers, petitions and thanksgivings, be made on behalf of all men, for
kings and all who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all
godliness and dignity.” (2.1-2) Now in chapter three Paul gives instructions about the godly
character that must be evident in the life of church leaders, it’s elders and deacons. Paul
begins his instruction in chapter three concerning church officers by saying, “It is a
trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires
to do.” This trustworthy statement would have certainly been part of an ordination service
as the church would install elders and deacons to serve their congregation.
During the ordination service the pastor would say, “It is a trustworthy statement.” And the
congregation would respond, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he
desires to do.” So, let’s join the early church.
Hear now the Word of God, First Timothy chapter three verses on through seven.
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. (ITim.3.1-7)
The Office of Overseer
Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write this portion of Scripture so that you will know
how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living
God, the pillar and support of the truth. (ITim.3.15) The church of the living God is the pillar
and support of truth. God is a God of order and desires His dwelling place, His church, to be
a place of order. A local congregation that is governed in a biblical way by Christian
overseers is conducive to spiritual growth and maturity under the Spirit’s blessings.
Understanding the office of overseer is important. We will see that overseers are stewards
of God’s people to care for and shepherd them. Overseers are stewards of the truth of the
gospel to teach each generation until the Lord return. The Lord Jesus, as King and Head of
His Church, has ordained the office of overseer to teach, maintain order, and to admonish
until the Lord returns. To say it simply, overseers are God’s janitors cleaning up messes and
keeping things clean and orderly until Christ returns.
The office of overseer is referring to what is commonly known as the office of elder in the
church. In the New Testament uses the title of overseer, elder, and bishop to refer to the
same office. Later in chapter five Paul instructs Timothy, “Let the elders who rule well are to
be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and
teaching.” (ITim.5.17) So here we see that there are two types of elders, ruling and
teaching. Teaching elders are those who teach and preach regularly, like me, and are
commonly known as pastors. Ruling elders serve side by side with teaching elders to make
decisions concerning the ministry of the church and to shepherd God’s people.
As you read the New Testament you discover that overseers, or elders, fulfilled an
important role in the life of the early church. We first see elders in the churches of Judea
overseeing the disbursement of funds collected for those suffering from a great famine.
As we journey through the book of Acts, we see that teaching elders were part of the
leadership of the church in Antioch that commissioned and sent Barnabas and Paul out on
their first missionary journey. (Acts 13.1-3) As churches were established through the
preaching of the gospel Barnabas and Paul would appoint elders in every church to give
direction and instruction to their congregations. (Acts 14.23) It seems clear that a church
wasn’t considered to be fully established until elders has been installed.
Elders were together with the apostles at the first church council in Acts chapter fifteen
debating and making decisions about core doctrinal issues to protect the integrity of the
gospel. (Acts 15.2, 4, 6ff, 16.4) The Ephesian elders met and prayed with Paul before he left
for Jerusalem. (Acts 20.17, 37-38) Paul sought the advice of the elders in the church of
Jerusalem prior to his arrest. (Acts 21.17, 23) Peter exhorts the elders in the churches of
Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia to shepherd the flock of God among them.
(IPt.1.1, 5.2a) James calls for the elders to pray for the sick anointing them with oil in the
name of the Lord. (Js.5.4) Paul called teaching and ruling elders the Lord’s gift to the church
for the equipping for the work of service and building up the body of Christ until we all
attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to
the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. (Eph.4.11-13)
A Fine Work
Disbursement of funds, commissioning of missionaries, guiding congregations, teaching
God’s Word, protecting the integrity of the gospel, equipping the church for ministry,
shepherding, praying, and advising God’s people are just some of the tasks that are
included in the fine work overseers or elders are called to do. Basically, elders are to
oversee God’s people in their walk with Christ and their growth in God’s Word.
Paul puts the whole idea together in his charge to the Ephesian elders in Acts chapter
twenty when he says, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy
Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His
own blood.” (Acts 2.28) Brothers and sisters, Christ purchased us with His own blood, the
blood He shed on the cross, and because Christ has purchased us with His own blood, we
are members of Christ’s church, the church of God. Because of His great sacrifice we are part
of God’s flock and the great Shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ, (Heb.13.20) has appointed
overseers to be on guard for all the flock. The Holy Spirit has commissioned overseers to
keep watch over the souls of God’s people, as one that will give an account. (Heb.13.17)
Brothers and sisters, this is serious stuff. When I and other overseers stand before the Lord
one day, we will not only give an account for our own lives, but we will also give account of
how we kept watch over your soul.
What does God’s Word ask of you in return for this soul care? That you appreciate
those who diligently labor among you and have charge over you in the Lord and give
you instruction, and that you esteem them very highly in love because of their work.
Aspires to the Office
Godly leaders must want the job. Paul uses two verbs in out text to bring this out. First, he
says that a person must “set his heart” or “aspire to the office.” The verb means to “stretch
out in order to grasp,” like a football player straining to catch a pass. Second, he says that a
leader must “desire” to do the work. That verb means to “eagerly desire” or to “be
ambitious for” or even to “covet” (in the good sense). God lays a deep desire on a person’s
heart to serve God’s people in the local church.
Anyone who aspires to the officer of an overseer must understand that the work is not a
hobby or something you do on the side. It not like serving on the board of a homeowner
association. The work is not for a season but for a lifetime. “Once an elder always an elder.”
The work is not an occupation it is a vocation. It’s a calling. The calling isn’t something you
can shake off, lay aside, and move on to the next thing. It is something that haunts you until
you surrender to its beckoning. For me it was the inward voice saying over and over in my
head, “Who will do something about this generation?”
Qualifications for the Office
Aspiration to the office is something that an individual senses in the own heart and is
confirmed by others. It is what the Church Fathers called the “inward” and “outward” call.
The inward call must be accompanied by a consistent testimony of Christian living and
godly character. Because of the noble nature of the work that an overseer is called to do
there is the necessity that an overseer must be “above reproach.” His consistent Christian
living and godly character must be seen by those in the church as well as those outside the
church. He must be the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able
to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of
money. He must be one who manages his own household well, . . . and not a new convert, so
that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil.
It can be argued that there is no organization on earth that has a higher standard for its
leaders than the church of Jesus Christ. It’s good for us to step back once in a while to
refresh ourselves on the qualifications for leadership in the body of Christ. On a personal
level, I find these standards extremely challenging and convicting.
The qualifications given in this list are all self-explanatory. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist
or a theologian to comprehend what God’s standards are for the leaders of His church. But
the fact is that all Christian are called to these qualifications. I could go through the Bible
and find a chapter and verse calling for all Christians to implement these same
characteristics into their life. Brother and sisters, all believers should seek for the work of
the Spirit to equip them demonstrate this type of Christian living and godly character. But
certainly, the call is for overseers to be examples to the flock to show what Christian living
and Christian character looks like.
As God’s people we should be thankful that God loved us so much that He sent His own Son
to die on the cross for our sin and to purchase us as His people through the blood of Jesus
Christ. And we should thank God that He knew that we needed overseers to keep watch
over the souls, teach us God’s Word, and call us back when we go astray.
Thanks be to God.