God’s good order for leadership in the church: Part 3: Qualifications

1 Timothy 3:1-7

God’s good order for leadership in the church: Part 3: Qualifications


How does the Father maintain church-planting movements globally among unreached people groups that then make the UPG a reached people group?


Well, the Lord of the harvest raises up people to go to a people group with the Gospel. The Gospel powerfully transforms people and then the Lord Jesus, by his Spirit, begins to do his work of building his church. This is an amazing thing to behold in reading church and missions history but also with the naked eye as we engage the globe with the Gospel and watch the church being constructed, one soul at a time rescued from darkness. You can even begin to see whom the Lord may put a desire in to be a shepherd someday.


In building his church the Lord Jesus then begins to gather the people he saves and then he either puts the desire in the hearts of men to lead them and they learn with the Scriptures how to lead or savvy missionaries instruct with the Scriptures in culturally appropriate ways how to shepherd the Lord’s people and then the missionary backs off and watches the Chief Shepherd multiply and raise up men to under-shepherd the movement.


We see this happening at gloriously rapid rates on the frontiers of the Gospel today.


These qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are not hindrances to a movement. They are not barriers to the work. These qualifications were in place in one of the most exciting times in church history for the rapid advance of the gospel.


These qualifications are holy ongoing and long-term moral characteristics of men seeking to follow the Lord Jesus who have, by supernatural means, developed a desire to shepherd Jesus’ people under Jesus’ leadership.


These qualifications are not momentary statuses. These qualifications are long-term moral characteristics. If these qualifications were statuses no man could qualify to be a pastor.


For example, back in October when the man sought to invade my home (he, the bad guy) thinking that the man of the home was gone, met me to his great chagrin. I, in force and yea much violence sent this man packing while threatening to part his skull with a hollow point. At that moment and for quite a few days my level of hospitality in welcoming strangers was not real good. One might say that I was disqualified for pastoral ministry because I was not hospitable to outsiders for a time. My status at that moment made me appear to be hostile to outsiders. I was also not gentle, but rather quite violent.


However, the long-term evidence of my life is contrary to that isolated incident of which I was and my family was innocent victims. We are, by God’s grace, quite hospitable to outsiders. Look at my children. I also don’t default to violent means to solve problems as the first option.

The long-term and ongoing moral characteristic of hospitality and gentleness is quite in tact.


Therefore, as we come to these qualifications some may seek to make statuses out of them and turn them into battering rams to beat men up and repel them from pastoral ministry. If these qualifications were statuses there would be no church led by pastors anywhere and the gospel’s influence would be lacking.


To take it a step further, if these were statuses there would be many men and women constantly in the third step of church discipline due to momentary sin.


A question to you: Are these qualifications only for the pastor/elder/overseer? Can the men and women in the church be the opposite of these while expecting the pastor/elder/overseer to keep them? NO! These qualifications are for everyone. They are specifically applied to the leaders because they will be most visible and therefore the first to represent the King and his Kingdom. But these qualifications are not lost on the congregation.


However, these are not statuses. These qualifications are moral characteristics that are the fiber of a man’s being in his transformation by the gospel lived out in public over the long haul (nouns / adjectives / very few verbs but the verbs are present indicative or future infinitive, indicating this truth of long-term characteristics rather than statuses.). Combine these moral characteristics with a God-given desire and you have a pastor/elder/overseer.


Take pastors who live out these moral characteristics, preach the bible, seek to make disciples and you may just find yourself in the midst of a Spirit driven movement to multiply the Kingdom of God by raising up men to lead, plant and multiply the church locally and globally.


What does Paul tell us about selecting these pastor/elder/overseers?


A Most Trustworthy Saying

Anyone (v.1)

Paul starts out the qualifications with a very encouraging statement. If anyone…


Pastoral ministry is not for the seminary graduate or the good looking and chiseled television or Internet hunk. Pastoral ministry is not for the podcast super star. Pastoral ministry is not for the man who has his books ghost written to the appearance that he writes them all and puts them out like Pez. Pastoral ministry is not for the man who pays a research company to do all of his research. Pastoral ministry is not for the exceptionally good communicator. Pastoral ministry is for the man who exhibits the requirements along with a God-generated desire for shepherding.


What are these requirements?


A word to the ladies: we have already covered 1 Timothy 2:11-15. The biblical role of woman is not less and is no less vital. Don’t let a culture’s lies rob you of good order. The text will address the role of ladies whether single or married soon enough. But lets let the text speak. Lets follow God’s good order and see what he has for us.


Aspiration (v.1)

Any man who aspires may put himself under the microscope of the qualifications of pastor/elder/overseer. What is aspiration here? The word used by Paul means “to stretch out one’s hand”. In other words, any man who sets his efforts on shepherding the people of God is aspiring. It is no sin to aspire to be an under shepherd of Jesus. If that aspiration is in place it may be the stirring of the man’s soul by the Spirit. It is no sin to aspire for this.


Do not, however, confuse this with aspiring to be a CEO and leader according to a system of hierarchical governing. We have been clear. The text has been clear. This aspiration is to be like Christ in all the wins and the suffering. That is why this aspiration is no sin. This aspiration involves no self-glory or status of greater. This aspiration leads one to joyfully make themselves a target for the glory of Jesus.


For the men in the church at Ephesus, to aspire to the office of overseer was to aspire to be the first to die when persecution came. To aspire to the office of overseer now is to aspire to be the one to go first in the advance of the gospel. This is no easy task, and it is no sin to aspire to it.


Desire (v.1)

Paul says that if one aspires to this that the desire is noble. Two words to note here: Desire means, “to have an affection toward” and noble means, “good”. Paul says that if one has the aspiration to overseer that the affection is a good one.


Men, it is not considered noble to shepherd the church in our culture. Being pastor may be considered by some as what con men do. What I would argue is that, regardless of what others have sold pastoral ministry to be, it is the noblest task on the planet to shepherd the people that will inherit the earth!


Paul now moves to some specifics beyond the open invitation to any man who has the desire to go first. There are overarching descriptions given here for your help. The specific qualification Paul gives is in italics under the bold description.


He Must Be Qualified (requirements continued: his reputation; his marriage and family; his self-mastery; his temperament; his maturity; his ministry)[1]


His Reputation

Above reproach (v. 2)

Above reproach stands as the banner over all of these qualifications, and as the banner it sets the stage for understanding all of these qualifications not as statuses or skills but rather as moral qualifications.


The word used here carries the idea of not able to be seized. The man cannot be rightly convicted of a moral wrong.


This is not being sinless. This is sinful man seeking to be right and repentant when they do sin.


Well thought of by outsiders (v. 7)

The aspiring man must have a reputation among those outside of the church that is stellar. It is vital to have a vehicle for being connected to the outside world for the advance of the gospel and for being salt and light to one’s location in seeking it’s good, and in doing so to keep a strong reputation.


His Marriage and Family

Husband of one wife (v. 2)

This is the most debated qualification among some scholars. However, my observation is that the majority of evangelical Christianity leans the direction I’m about to share with you. I have not been that way in the past, and the text has convinced me. Teaching I had received in the past and poor exposition by others and myself has often poorly influenced the exegesis of this qualification.


The pastor must be above reproach in relation to women. He must be the husband of one wife. The Greek text literally reads “one woman man”. Paul is not referring to a leader’s marital status, as the absence of the definite article in the original indicates. Rather, the issue is his moral, sexual (carnal) behavior.[2] Many men married only once are not one-woman men. Many with one wife are unfaithful to that wife. While remaining married to one woman is commendable, it is no indication or guarantee of moral purity.


Why begin this list of qualifications with this quality? Paul does this because this area may be the most targeted among godly men. The failure to be a one-woman man has put many a man out of the ministry and wrecked many marriages inside the church of Jesus Christ.


Various interpretations have been offered that truly skirt around the real issue here. To simply state that a man who would be pastor must never have had another wife for any reason is to miss the point and make this a shallow issue that never confronts the real sin.


Some argue that the intent is to forbid polygamy. I don’t believe this is the case here. A man could not even be a member of the church if that were the case much less a leader. As it stands, polygamy was not an issue in Ephesus and was uncommon in Roman society because sexual encounters and no cause divorce were so easily available in Roman culture.


Some argue that Paul is forbidding remarriage after the death of a spouse. Remember, this standard, like the rest of them, is about moral character not marital status. To take it further, the bible permits and honors second marriages under the correct circumstances. Paul expected younger widows to remarry and raise a family (1 Timothy 5:14), and in this case widows could still be described as “one-man women” (1 Tim 5:9). 1 Corinthians 7:39 permits the woman or man whose spouse has died to remarry if they remarry a Christian.


Some have held, and I used to be one of them, cultural assumptions and textual assumptions that had no base in the text that this qualification excluded divorced men from spiritual leadership or service. This position, again, ignores the fact that Paul is not referring to marital status. Nor does the bible forbid all remarriage after divorce. In Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:9, Jesus permitted remarriage when a divorce was caused by adultery for the innocent party. Paul gave a second occasion when remarriage is permitted, when the unbelieving spouse initiates the divorce (1 Corinthians 7:15). While God hates all divorce (Malachi 2:16), he is gracious to the innocent part in those two situations. Therefore, since remarriage in and of itself is not a sin, it is not necessarily a blight on a man’s character. If divorce resulted from a man’s inability to lead his family or reproachable behavior on the man’s part, then it would be a disqualification. But if he were the innocent party then it would not be a blight on his character since he has sought to obey the Scriptures and the other party’s efforts were contrary.


Had Paul clearly meant to prohibit divorce, he could have said it unmistakably by using the Greek word for divorce (apolyō, cf. Matt 1:19).[3]


A final expositional point here, in 5:9, Paul says that a window is not to be enrolled for help unless she is less than 60 years old and having been the “wife of one husband”. Paul uses the exact same phrase for the widow’s relief as he does for the qualification of pastors. If Paul means marital status rather than moral character, and if her husband divorced her unjustly and she is innocent of wrongdoing, then the phrase “one-man woman” means the church is to let her starve for no wrong done on her part. I’m quite certain that is not what Paul means. I’ve become convinced that Paul is not addressing status but moral character. In other words, the widow cannot be blamed for anything her husband did wrong that caused her any harm. She has been blameless and her moral character is in tact and should be enrolled to help.


Some have held that Paul excluded single men from the ministry. If that were the case then Paul would have been disqualifying himself since he was single (1 Cor. 7:8).


Finally, a “one-woman man” is a man completely devoted not just in his body but also in his entire being (thinking, feeling, the entirety of the soul) to his wife. This man loves, desires and thinks only of her. He is pure in both his thought life and conduct.


So, if you want to be a pastor/elder/overseer expect some hard questions about what you think and see. (I’ve adopted that practice with all pre-marital counseling too.)


Much of the congregation had at one time, due to the nature of the city of Ephesus and its history, fallen prey to immorality. If that was before a man became a Christian, it was not a problem (see 2 Cor. 5:17). If this happened after he became a Christian it would be a problem. If it happened after he assumed a leadership role it would definitely be a disqualification. These same standards of moral purity apply still today.


Proverbs 6:32-33 says it well, “He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away.”


Manage his household well (v. 4)

The pastor/elder/overseer must be the overseer of a well ran home. That does not mean he does everything, but it does mean he makes sure all things are pointed in the right direction.


His Self-Mastery (he has mastery over himself; self-disciplined)

Sober-minded (v. 2)

Sober-minded means “watchful” it also means, “limiting his freedom”. This man keeps a reign on his thinking and fights the war in the mind well.


Self-controlled (v. 2)

Self-controlled means the pastor is self-disciplined. This man can self-start and complete a task. This man rules himself well.


Respectable (v. 2)

Respectable means “orderly”. The idea here is that his life and direction is not identified by confusion bur rather with a clear vision and purpose creating order.


Not a drunkard (v. 3)

Drunkard here literally means “always near wine”. In other words, the pastor can control his consumption of alcohol. This is not a command to abstain, but rather a command to be in control.


Not a lover of money (v. 3)

The pastor can’t be in love with “stuff” and getting money to get “stuff”. The pastor recognizes that his use of God’s resources is vital and as a manager of God’s resources he will be held accountable.


His Temperament

Not violent but gentle (v. 3)

Literally Paul says here, “not a striker”. I failed this one in October with the potential home invasion. However, as we have said, these are long-term moral characteristics not statuses. The man of God must display an ability to be gentle and not seeking to strike everyone who comes his way. Sometimes Nehemiah 13:25 may be needed, but it’s not the default.


Not quarrelsome (v. 3)

The man of God will not battle with people. He is quick to let a verbal fight pass on by.


His Maturity

Not a recent convert (v. 6)

There must be some spiritual maturity. As we noted last week that there are some instances where the spiritual maturity may not be measured in years but rather in knowledge and capacity due to the advance of the gospel in new places.


His Ministry

Hospitable (v. 2)

The pastor welcomes strangers. This is the missionary component. The moral standing of the pastor must be one that delights in the inclusion of outsiders in the Kingdom.


Able to teach (v. 2)

Literally, this qualification reads “skilled at teaching”. How is this a moral qualification? I would argue that many men are great communicators but are not skilled at teaching. Someone may be able to hold people’s attentions and wow them with his ability to speak, but he does not teach truth. This qualification is moral because the mandate from chapter 1 is that the pastor must teach in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God.


This means that the pastor is not just a good communicator, but he is a communicator of right things and the right application of things.


It is a shallow qualification if it is simply the ability to talk good. It is shallow on the part of the believer to not be able to hear past the style or the physical appearance of the man of God


I remember the moment that the Lord broke that in me. It was Fort Worth, Texas. Dr. Craig Blomberg was on campus to lecture on the false theology of the prosperity gospel. I was required to attend. I had not deemed Blomberg’s style or appearance worthy of the more entertaining speakers of the Christian world so I was not happy to be required to go. I went with arms folded and bitterness in my soul at being made to attend. When Dr. Blomberg began to speak the Spirit moved to break me up in a way that he has not had to do since. He broke that sin in me in an instant. Dr. Blomberg became to me a hero that day not because he was pretty or a good talker but because his teaching was in moral rightness and therefore full of the Spirit. Don’t confuse smooth talking with Spirit-filled. Rightly recognize Spirit in broken men filled with power (see Moses).


Samuel Logan Brengle, one of the early leaders of the Salvation Army said, “Spiritual leadership is not won by promotion, but by many prayers and tears. It is attained by confessions of sin, and much heart searching and humbling before God; by self-surrender, a courageous sacrifice of every idol, a bold, deathless, uncompromising and uncomplaining embracing of the cross, and by an eternal, unfaltering looking unto Jesus crucified. It is not gained by seeking great things for ourselves, but rather, like Paul, by counting those things that are gain to us as loss for Christ. That is a great price, but it must be unflinchingly paid by him who would not merely be a nominal but a real spiritual leader of men, a leader whose power is recognized and felt in heaven, on earth and in hell.”[4]


Father has made men like that here in this fellowship. We will install them on May 18.




Do you think you have that trustworthy aspiration that is a good and noble desire? Is the trajectory of your life pointed in the direction of these qualifications? I would ask you to make yourself known and see if you might want to enter into learning if you really want to be a pastor/elder/overseer.


How cool it would be to be an Acts 13 church with what my seminary president called “The Antioch Affect”, raising up qualified men and filling the cities and communities with fellowships on mission.





[1] The over-arching descriptions in bold are barrowed from Kent Hughes organization of the qualifications in his commentary on 1 Timothy.

[2] John MacArthur, 1 Timothy, Chicago: Moody Press,1995, p. 104.

[3] Thomas D. Lea and Hayne P. Griffin, 1, 2 Timothy, Titus, vol. 34, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1992), 110.

[4] Samuel Logan Brengle, The Soul Winner’s Secret, London: The Salvation Army, 1918, p. 22.

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