The Character of Leadership

Lesson Focus:  This lesson can help you affirm church leaders and hold them and yourself accountable to godly standards.

Above Reproach:  1 Timothy 3:1-7.

[1]  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.  [ESV]

[1-7]  From the importance of apostolic doctrine (chapter 1) and the conduct of public worship (chapter 2), Paul turns to the pastoral oversight of the church and the necessary qualifications of pastors (chapter 3). This remains a vital topic in every place and generation. For the health of the church depends very largely on the quality, faithfulness and teaching of its ordained ministers. Two introductory points need to be made. First, God intends His church to have pastors. Secondly, God has not specified the precise form which pastoral oversight should take. For example, this chapter lists the qualifications of overseers in verses 1-7 and of deacons in verses 8-13, but throws little light on their duties. Paul begins 3:1 with another trustworthy saying, that is, a popular proverb which he now endorses as reliable. Paul is not condoning a selfish ambition for the prestige and power which are associated with the ordained ministry. He is rather recognizing that the pastorate is a noble task, because it involves the care and nurture of the people of God, and that it is laudable to desire this privilege. But is not becoming a pastor a matter rather of divine call than of human aspiration? Yes, elsewhere Paul clearly affirms the call and appointment of God. So what we call the selection of candidates for the pastorate entails according to Paul three essentials: the call of God, the inner aspiration and conviction of the individuals concerned, and their conscientious screening by the church as to whether they meet the requirements which the apostle now goes on to list. The first and general requirement is that the overseer must be above reproach. This cannot mean faultless, or no child of Adam would ever qualify to be an overseer. It means rather blameless reputation and has to do with irreproachable observable conduct. This provides biblical warrant for requiring references or testimonials, so that a candidate’s reputation may be ascertained. Under Paul’s direction, as he proceeds from the general to the particular, we are now able to compile a kind of questionnaire relating to a candidate for the pastorate. The following ten areas are to be investigated. (1) His fidelity in marriage. The requirement that the overseer be the husband of one wife has been the subject of long and anxious debate. Whom is Paul wishing to exclude from the pastorate by this expression? Five answers have been given to this question. First, it is suggested that Paul is excluding those who have never married. But Paul is not intending to disqualify those who are single or indeed married but childless [5]. Both Jesus and Paul maintained that some are called to remain single [Matt. 19:10-11; 1 Cor. 7:7]. Indeed, Paul himself was not married. The second interpretation is that Paul excludes polygamists. His phrase will of course exclude such, but are they his chief target? There seems to be no evidence that Christians ever practiced polygamy. Thirdly, Paul is thought by many to be excluding from the pastorate those who have divorced and remarried. Do divorce and remarriage constitute an absolute ban on ordination, although they seem to have been allowed by Jesus to the innocent party when the other has been guilty of serious sexual sin, and by Paul in the case of a newly converted person whose spouse remained unconverted and was unwilling to continue the marriage? Do these concessions not apply to clergy and prospective clergy, then? If not, does this not erect a double standard? Yes it does, but is it not reasonable and right that a higher standard should be expected of pastors who are called to teach by example as well as by words? Fourthly, some have argued that Paul is excluding those who are widowed and remarried, much as the Old Testament priests were not permitted to marry widows. But the remarriage of widows and widowers is specifically permitted in the New Testament. The fifth proposal is that Paul is excluding all those guilty of married unfaithfulness. Or better, he is making a general and positive stipulation that a candidate for the pastorate must be faithful to his one wife. This explanation seems to fit the context best. The accredited overseers of the church, who are called to teach doctrine and exercise discipline, must themselves have an unblemished reputation in the area of sex and marriage. (2) His self-mastery. Under this heading we may take the next three words together: sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable. This self-mastery is an indispensable quality of Christian leaders. Leaders are often left for considerable periods unsupervised so that they have to supervise themselves. (3) His hospitality. Hospitable follows self-controlled naturally, since self-mastery makes self-giving possible. Hospitality is urged in the New Testament on all Christians, but specially on Christian leaders. For in those days there were no hotels comparable to those we are familiar with, and roadside inns were scarce, dirty, unsafe and unsavory. So Christian travelers, especially itinerant Christian preachers, needed to be accommodated by the pastor and his wife. (4) His teaching ability. Suddenly, in the middle of a series of moral qualities, a single professional qualification is mentioned: able to teach. It follows from this that pastors are essentially teachers. Indeed, what distinguishes Christian pastoral ministry is the pre-eminence in it of the Word of God. The fact that overseers must have a teaching gift shows that the church has no liberty to ordain any whom God has not called and gifted. (5) His drinking habits. Alcohol is a depressant. It blunts and blurs our faculty of judgment. Those called to teach should take special warning. Drinking and teaching do not go well together. Paul did not require overseers to be total abstainers, since Jesus Himself changed water into wine and made wine the emblem of His blood. Yet there are strong social arguments for total abstinence, since much reckless, violent and immoral behavior is due to excessive drinking. What Paul requires, however, is moderation, as an example of the self-mastery already mentioned. (6) His temper and temperament. The next two qualifications in verse 3 may be taken together: not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome. Unlike the false teachers, who were characterized by conceit, quarrelsomeness and strife, true Christian teachers are above all to be gentle. Since gentleness is a fruit of the Spirit, it should characterize all the disciples of Jesus, but specially Christian leaders who are the servants of the Lord. Once this positive virtue has been cultivated, the two negative correlatives should take care of themselves. A gentle pastor will be neither violent nor quarrelsome. His patience may be sorely tried by demanding and aggravating people, but like his Master he will seek to be gentle, never crushing a bruised reed or snuffing out a wick that is burning low. (7) His attitude to money. Towards the end of this letter Paul will call the love of money a root of all kinds of evil [6:10]. So it is understandable that a candidate for the pastorate must not be a lover of money, which is what the false teachers were. (8) His domestic discipline. In verses 4-5 Paul draws an analogy between the pastor’s family and God’s church. The married pastor is called to leadership in two families, his and God’s, and the former is to be the training-ground for the latter. The argument is straightforward. If he cannot look after his own family, he cannot be expected to look after God’s. The word manage indicates that, although pastoral ministry is a servant ministry characterized by gentleness, a certain authority also attaches to it. One cannot expect discipline in the local church if pastors have not learned to exercise it in their home. So those responsible for selecting candidates for the pastorate must investigate not only their personal qualities, but also their home and family life. (9) His spiritual maturity. It goes without saying that candidates for the pastorate must be converted people, who give evidence of the genuineness of their conversion; what they must not be is recent converts. Although the modern western custom of ordaining people in their twenties straight from college or seminary has much to commend it, it also has its dangers, if they have had insufficient time since conversion to put down roots and to grow up in Christ. The main danger (apart from not being mature enough to bear responsibility) is pride (too much responsibility too soon). He may become puffed up with conceit. Humility is a necessary qualification for the pastorate, including humility before God in a life of personal devotion, faith and obedience. (10) His outside reputation. By outsiders Paul means the non-Christian public. He wants the people of God to remember that the world is watching them, to be wise in their behavior towards outsiders, and to win their respect. This is especially true of pastors who must have a good reputation outside as well as inside the church. He evidently thinks of the pastorate as a public office requiring public esteem. Otherwise they will suffer public disgrace and fall into a snare of the devil. In his malicious eagerness to discredit the gospel, the devil does his best to discredit the ministers of the gospel.


Worthy of Respect:  1 Timothy 3:8-13.

[8]  Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. [9]  They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. [10]  And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. [11]  Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. [12]  Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. [13]  For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.  [ESV]

[8-13]  The requirement of verse 9 that the deacons have a strong and steadfast grasp of the revealed faith, suggests that they were expected to teach it, which was the chief responsibility of the overseers. So then, rather than distinguishing deacons from overseers as social workers from teachers, it is perhaps better to think of the deacons as assisting the overseers in their ministry. Since the qualifications for the diaconate overlap with those for the overseers, it will not be necessary to study them all in detail. But the following four areas are emphasized. First, deacons must have self-mastery. Four words in verse 8 seems to form a natural grouping – dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. Thus in these four areas, in their behavior, speech, use of alcohol and attitude to money, candidates for the diaconate are to have control of themselves. Secondly, deacons must have orthodox convictions. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience [9]. This mystery or deep truths is the sum-total of the revealed truths of the faith which the deacons must hold fast. And unlike the false teachers, who have rejected their conscience and so shipwrecked their faith [1:19], the deacons are to maintain a clear conscience, holding on to God’s revelation with sincere and strong conviction. Thirdly, deacons must have been tested and approved [10]. In addition to the selection procedure Paul has been outlining, there needs to be a period of probation, in which the congregation may assess the character, beliefs and gifts of the candidates for the diaconate. It is right that in this way the congregation is given a share in the testing of potential deacons. Fourthly, deacons must have an irreproachable home life: husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well, just like the candidate for overseer. Those who serve well as deacons will gain two things. The first is a good standing. The second thing which faithful deacons gain is great confidence in the faith. Faithful service will increase their Christian confidence. Looking back, it is clear that the qualifications for the office of overseer and the diaconate are very similar. There is a core of Christian qualities, which all Christian leaders should exhibit. Putting the two lists together, we note that there are five main areas to be investigated. In regard to himself the candidate must be self-controlled and mature, including the areas of drink, money, temper and tongue; in regard to his family, both faithful to his wife and able to discipline his children; in regard to his relationships, hospitable and gentle; in regard to outsiders, highly esteemed; and in regard to the faith, strong in his hold on its truth and gifted in teaching it.

And Not Just the Leaders:  1 Timothy 3:14-15.

[14]  I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, [15]  if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth.  [ESV]

[14-15]  From the qualifications for the pastorate Paul turns to the church in which pastors serve. For the nature of the ministry is determined by the nature of the church. Paul uses three descriptive expressions of the church, each of which illustrates a different aspect of it, namely the household of God … the church of the living God … a pillar and buttress of the truth. (1) God’s household. The word translated household can mean either a house (the building) or a household (the family that occupies the building). And Scripture tells us that the church is both God’s house and God’s household. The two concepts are sometimes brought together. But since in this chapter the Greek word has already been used three times of a household [4,5,12], it seems likely that it has the same connotation in verse 15. By new birth of the Spirit we become members of the family of God, related to him as our Father and to all fellow believers as our sisters and brothers. Although Paul does not here draw out the implications of our being God’s household or family, he does elsewhere. He emphasizes that as God’s children we have an equal dignity before Him, irrespective of age, sex, race or culture; and that as sisters and brothers we are called to love, forbear and support one another, enjoying in fact the rich reciprocity of the Christian fellowship [Heb. 10:2-3; Gal. 6:2]. (2) The church of the living God. On a number of occasions in the Old Testament Yahweh is named ‘the living God’ in deliberate contrast to the lifeless idols of the heathen. Israel’s consciousness that the living God lived among them profoundly affected their community life. An even more vivid consciousness of the presence of the living God should characterize the Christian church today. For we are the temple of the living God [2 Cor. 6:16], a dwelling place for God by the Spirit [Eph. 2:22]. When the members of the congregation are scattered during most of the week it is difficult to remain aware of this reality. But when we come together as the church of the living God, every aspect of our common life is enriched by the knowledge of His presence in our midst. In our worship we bow down before the living God. through the reading and exposition of His Word we hear His voice addressing us. We meet Him at His table when He makes Himself known to us through the breaking of bread. In our fellowship we love each other as He has loved us. And our witness becomes bolder and more urgent. Indeed, unbelievers coming in may confess that God is really among you [1 Cor. 14:25]. (3) The pillar and foundation of the truth. Having considered our duty to each other as the household of God, and to God as His dwelling-place, we come to our duty to the truth as its pillar and foundation. The Greek word translated buttress is the mainstay of a building. It may refer either to its foundation or to a buttress or bulwark which supports it. In either case, it stabilizes the building. Just so, the church is responsible to hold the truth steady against the storms of heresy and unbelief. The purpose of pillars is not only to hold the roof firm, but to thrust it high so that it can be clearly seen even from a distance. The church holds the truth aloft, so that it is seen and admired by the world. Indeed, as pillars lift a building high while remaining themselves unseen, so the church’s function is not to advertise itself but to advertise and display the truth. Here then is the double responsibility of the church concerning the truth. First, as its foundation it is to hold it firm, so that it does not collapse under the weight of false teaching. Secondly, as its pillar it is to hold it high, so that it is not hidden from the world. To hold the truth firm is the defense and confirmation of the gospel; to hold it high is the proclamation of the gospel. The church is called to both these ministries. Some Christians, however, are confused about the relation between the church and the truth. Is it really so that the church is the foundation of the truth? Is it not rather the case that the truth is the foundation of the church? Paul himself had earlier described the church as built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone [Eph. 2:20]. So is the truth the foundation of the church, or is the church the foundation of the truth? The answer is “Both.” When Paul taught that the truth is the foundation of the church, he was referring to the church’s life and health: the church rests on the truth, depends on it, cannot exist without it. But when he taught that the church is the foundation of the truth, he was referring to the church’s mission: the church is called to serve the truth, to hold it fast and make it known. So then, the church and the truth need each other. The church depends on the truth for its existence; the truth depends on the church for its defense and proclamation. What then is the truth which the church must both guard against every distortion and falsification, and proclaim without fear or compromise throughout the world? It concerns the gospel of Jesus Christ which must always be upheld and proclaimed by the church.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What are the essentials Paul gives that the local church should follow in their selection of a pastor? List all the requirements Paul gives in 3:1-7. What ten areas should be investigated when researching a candidate for the pastorate?

2.         What are the qualifications for a deacon that Paul gives in 3:8-13? What four areas should be emphasized?

3.         What are the three descriptive expressions Paul uses for the church in 3:14-15? What do these three expressions teach us about the true nature of the church?

4.         What is the church’s double responsibility concerning the truth?


The Message of 1 Timothy, John Stott, Inter Varsity Press.

The Letters to Timothy and Titus, Philip Towner, Eerdmans.

1 Timothy, Thomas Lea, NAC, Broadman Press.

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