1 Timothy

The qualifications of church officials. 3:1-13


Paul now outlines the qualities that should be evident in the life of church officers: first "the overseer" (senior pastor/elder/priest) and then "deacons" (assistant ministers). The qualities of an "overseer" indicate a leading and teaching role, while those of "the deacons" indicate an assisting, serving role. Only church members of the highest moral standing can undertake these roles.

The passage

v1. Paul begins by quoting a saying common in the early church: "If anyone aspires to a high office in the church, they aspire to a noble position."

v2. Paul now lists the qualities of a senior minister. This person was later given the title of "bishop", but here the word used by Paul is "overseer". This person probably aligns with today's senior minister/priest. The list of qualities touch on personal morality, even the perception of morality, ie. being of good reputation. He should also possess people skills, particularly the ability to teach. The list is as follows: i] Irreproachable - beyond criticism; ii] A person faithful to their marriage vows. This injunction has many different interpretations, but "not sleeping around" is probably the gist of it; iii] Self controlled - literally meaning "temperate"; iv] Thoughtful; v] Well behaved - virtuous; vi] Hospitable; vii] Able to teach. cf. Tit.2:24, 2Tim.2:24.

v3. viii] Not abrasive. Literally meaning not "overindulging in wine"; ix] Not pugnacious - violent; x] Peaceable, not quarrelsome; xi] Content - not a lover of money, not greedy.

v4-5. xii] The person must show that they can manage their own family, because if they can't, then they have no place managing the church.

v6. xiii] Mature in the faith. A new convert is liable to be puffed up with their importance and this could undermine their faith in Christ.

v7. xiv] Beyond reproach in the eyes of the wider secular society. A prominent person with history will inevitably be harshly judged.

v8. The next office, for which Paul provides a list of qualities, although without a description of the office itself, is that of, deacon, minister, or servant. Paul uses this word to describe members of his ministry team, but in the end, we are unsure of the actual function of this New Testament office. Today, we use the term to describe an assistant minister, or lay minister. The list of qualities is as follows: i] Respectable; ii] Sincere; iii] Temperate; iv] Content.

v9. v] A person who continues to hold firmly to the gospel ("deep truths") and expresses this reliance in godly living ("a clear conscience").

v10. vi] As with a senior pastor, it is necessary to confirm that those who minister are morally beyond reproach.

v11. vii] In a special note to women deacons, Paul underlines four particular qualities: respectable, not gossipers, self-controlled and dependable.



v12. viii] As an afterthought for married deacons, Paul notes the importance of marital fidelity and the good management of the home, qualities already demanded of the overseer - senior pastor.

v13. Those who minister well improve their standing and boldness in ministry.

Ministry qualifications

It would be a fascinating exercise to gather together the types of questions asked candidates for full-time ministry. Each denomination has its selection committee with its own peculiar set of questions. Imagine the variety! Mind you, when I was a student minister we always said that as long as you didn't fail Greek in the first year of theological college you were home and hosed. I remember that in my interview I was asked when I had last led someone to Christ. This seemed to be the most important quality. I had to admit failure, although one of my friends claimed he told the committee that the business of leading people to Christ was a function of the Holy Spirit and not something he was authorized to do - he claimed his job was to tell people about Jesus. Too smart by a yard!!!

In our passage for study, Paul identifies the qualities necessary for a person who wishes to minister in the church. He doesn't actually define the office as such, so we are not exactly sure what positions the overseer and deacons held in the New Testament church. Our guess is that Paul is speaking about roles similar to our senior ordained pastor, or priest, and their assistant ministers, both ordained and lay. The qualities are quite interesting and obviously are the ones a selection committee should use when interviewing people who have offered themselves for ministry in the church.

What we need to do now is take the time to go through the list of qualities and consider each one individually. Note how the moral qualifications for "the overseer", the person we would call the senior pastor or priest, is somewhat more stringent than the "deacons", the assistant ministers. Observe the expectation that the senior minister be able to teach and note also the weight given to his public profile; he must be above reproach. Note also the personal-faith, gospel orientation, management skills and people-person qualities necessary for those who wish to exercise a ministry in the Christian church.

So there we have it, the right questions for a selection committee.


List any qualities for ministry you think are missing from Paul's list. Discuss them in relation to the qualities Paul does list.

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