The Office of Overseer

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. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

It is good to be with all of you this morning. I think it is great that we can gather as a church body, as those in Christ, and open up God’s Word to hear and read about how He wants us to function together. That is what we have been doing. The emphasis is that this is His church, our Lord’s church, He has built it by saving souls and making all the arrangements for each of us to be a part of this body, and He then gives us instruction on how to live in this with function and order for His glory.

A football team must have organization with statements that will be lived out in their organization with function and order. There are coaches with varying responsibilities, one or some responsible for offense, others defense, special teams, there are supporting staff members for recruiting, trainers, medical staff, there are in big organizations people who deal with the press, nutritionists. These are all positions and each one has its place and each is important. If the nutritionist hijacks the offensive coach’s playbook and headset and demands the responsibility of calling the next play, there will be trouble. If the defensive coordinator decides he wants to order meds, call in prescriptions for his players, diagnose injuries, tape ankles, then he is missing the point of his role and will not be, most likely, doing what is best for the team. He will have stepped out of his role and into a role not intended for him.

Everyone in an organization has a role, and that role should be clearly defined and understood. Now, I have, and probably you have too, been in a business or on a team or in some other organization where we look at someone doing their role and think, “You know, I think I could do that better.” And maybe we can do it better. But in most instances, we are not in the position to make that call, someone has to agree with us and make an organizational change, unless we are the business owner or whatever and we have that right. Sometimes we may think we can do better because we have too high a view of ourselves. Maybe we really can’t do better. Sometimes we may just want to complain. Complain about how others are doing their role in place of just doing our role as best we can. Sometimes we want to tell others what to do.

Back to the football analogy. Everyone wants to be a consultant to the quarterback. Like, why didn’t he just hit that receiver that was wide open right there? Never mind that he was sprinting right being chased by a 300-pound linebacker and the open receiver was on the complete other side of the field sprinting in the opposite direction 50 yards down the field. Quarterbacks don’t have a chance with the fans who think they have abilities that no one has.

In the church, God has given gifts to its members, all of its members.

4 Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (1 Corinthians 12:4-7)

Gifts are given to us, each of us who are saved by grace and are in this body. As it says in 1 Corinthians 12, varieties of gifts through service and activities all come to us empowered by God Himself for what purpose? For the common good of the church. We do not all have the same spiritual gifts, we are not clones of one another, but we do all belong to the church as Christians and we all have a place to serve in it, to serve one another through Christ.

We get into trouble, I think, as a church, when we get all wrapped up in criticizing each other’s gifts of service, become frustrated with how others serve rather than focus on the question, “How can I best serve others here?” We can be like that Sunday afternoon football fan, sitting in a comfortable chair eating snacks in our climate controlled living room trying to instruct the players, with great passion, on how to do their jobs.

Here is what we need to know: we all have jobs. We all have a place. God has given gifts to the church and you living out your role in the church is a gift to the church. I say all this for each of us so we can say, “How can I serve here? How can I jump in and be supportive where I see weak spots? How can I be an effective minister of God’s grace in my friend’s lives?” I think that is where we need to be. Christ came to serve. We are to be like Him. How can we be more like Him in the way we serve?

One more point before we get to our text. Each place of service is important. There are no unimportant servants in Christ’s church. Our Lord is clear about this.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body. 

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. (1 Corinthians 12:14-26)

All members of a church have an important role to fill. I want to make this clear because we are beginning today to talk about two offices in the church. The first office being that of an elder and secondly deacons. As we talk about the offices of elder and deacon, I don’t want any of us to think that these offices are more important than any other area of service in the church. They are roles given by God, but they are not more important. They are important, but not more important. An elder is a servant, a deacon is a servant. Neither are kings to be served, but slaves of Christ to serve.

We all need each other. Elders cannot function well without others serving in their God-given capacities. Deacons cannot function well without others serving in their God-given capacities. I’ll tell you, for me personally, I cannot do what I’ve been called to do very well without many of you holding me up and doing the hard work required to serve me in a variety of ways. A church is not a strong leader with many serving him, it is weak, human leaders who are serving and being served. So as we talk about elders beginning today, let’s keep a right perspective on the church and how it functions with all of its members looking to Christ and walking as servants of His.

In 1 Timothy 3 we begin with a list of qualifications for elders. But before getting to those specific qualifications Paul says something of how a man may enter into the office of elder.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task (1 Timothy 3:1)

This verse, which leads us to a list of qualifications, mentions the office of overseer. Your translation may read “bishop.” Biblically, this office, the mention of overseer here is the same office as elder or pastor. Let me show you this. In Acts 20 Paul summons the church elders to himself to tell them goodbye for the last time. Verse 17 says this: “Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him.” He begins talking to the elders. In verse 28 he uses the same word as we have in 1 Timothy 3:1 to refer to this same set of men. Here is what it says: “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.”

In Titus 1 we see the same list of qualifications as we will see in 1 Timothy 3, but in Titus Paul calls it the office of elder rather than overseer.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you (Titus 1:5)

In 1 Peter we see Peter instructing elders to be pastors, that is to shepherd the flock of God.

1 So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: 2 shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; (1 Peter 5:1-2)

The evidence in Scripture is that the elder, pastor, and overseer is the same office with different emphasis on their duties. Here at GBFC we refer to our elders using all of these titles. That is, an elder is a pastor is an overseer. We don’t have pastors and then elders, we have pastor/elder/overseers as one group of men. I just don’t want us to be confused by the word “overseer” here and wonder what group of men that might refer to.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)

“The saying is trustworthy” means this was a common phrase that would have been familiar to the church people in Ephesus. Paul is not introducing something new to them but is reminding them of something that they know to be true. It is a trustworthy, true statement. Here is the statement: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”

There are two words that speak of direction in a man’s life. The first is “aspire” and the second is “desire.”

“If anyone aspires to the office.” The word aspire means to reach out after or to stretch out to get something. This is a moving toward something. It is more than a desire, but includes desire, but it is an active taking of steps. If someone aspires to a job or position or task they are not lazy about it.

There was a time when I thought I aspired to be a doctor. Soon after starting off in college in pre-med, my aspirations faded. I looked at what it would take, and the competition around me for completing the program, and decided it wasn’t for me. When I changed my degree direction, took those steps, it was clear by my direction that I no longer aspired to be a doctor. Aspiration is moving toward something.

You know, in anything we do, motivation is important too. We can selfishly aspire to something. But in this case, because Christian living is about being like Christ, living for Him and for His glory, I don’t think the aspiration is for the office itself as much as it is for the glory of God in doing the work of an overseer. In other words many people get hung up on or even excited about titles thinking that titles bring with them feelings or perceptions of status. Aspiring to a role for the purpose of self-inflation is not God-honoring. One thing we look at here at GBFC when considering ordaining new elders is to look around and see who those men are who seem to be already, without the title, doing much of the work of a pastor. In other words, men who are shepherding others, serving others in need who are hurting, discipling and teaching others. This is a great way, we think, to see who those men are who seem to be aspiring to the role of pastor, not just some formal title of pastor or overseer.

Paul also mentions desire. “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.” Desire here means a passionate compulsion. This is an inward feeling of desire. A passion to see people grow in the Lord and a commitment to being a part of that process. So we see an inward passion and steps moving in the direction of an overseer. Without these two things a man will never make it as a pastor. There are too many difficulties and challenges. There are many things working against a pastor and his time and ministry. It is a very difficult work, there are attacks on all sides. Anyone would want to quit and would quit if there were not an inward passion given by God Himself to stay the course and continue the work.

I heard a pastor say once that he encouraged young men who were considering ministry to go do something else if they could. He thought they should only pastor if their hearts were so driven to it that they could do nothing else. This is needed to do the work, I believe.

And this is a good thing, it is a good and noble work, Paul says. It is a noble task or work. It is work. People like to joke with pastors, you know about only having to work on Sundays, or even half a day on Sunday. A true overseer, pastor will be one who labors hard in what he does. His aspirations and his desire to serve the Lord as he shepherds God’s people will drive him to work hard, and not just on Sundays!

Though we are talking specifically about overseers or elders here, let me say as I did in the beginning, we are all called to serve and to serve well. We are all to labor in the world of ministry, maybe not as an elder, but as a servant nonetheless in the church. What would it look like if we were all 100% committed to serving Christ here with tremendous effort? That our desire to please and serve Christ would drive our aspirations in the tasks that He gives us to do? What if this is who we were, all equally? One church with one purpose: to love our Savior and to serve Him well! That is my prayer for us, for each of us here at GBFC.

Next time we will talk more about specific qualifications that our Lord has given for elders.

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. (1 Timothy 3:1)