An Overseer: Dedicated & Disciplined

He must be…the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable.” -1 Timothy 3:2

Today, we begin to get into Paul’s list of instruction for Timothy concerning those who serve as an overseer. It’s worth stating again for some who may have missed it: the New Testament uses the terms “pastor,” “elder,” and “overseer” as interchangeable titles that refer to the same office. They refer to different aspects of the same office that we normally refer to as "pastor." This tends to be the source of a great deal of confusion. So when you see those words, they are interchangeable and that’s what we are referring to: a pastor. 

So lets get into the next qualifications in the list. An overseer must be: 

The husband of one-wife.

This qualification is often the most misunderstood and disputed of them all. Does it mean an elder cannot be divorced? Does this exclude single men from pastoral ministry? Is it geared toward polygamy or did Paul have something else in mind? On and on the questions go. This is not the place to address those questions. I address all of those questions in sermons preached on this section. Short answer: This passage does NOT rule out single men or divorced men from serving as pastors (although I’d take that case by case). The links to those sermons are in an email I sent out last week. If you missed that email or would like the links, please email me or shoot me a message and I’d be glad to get them to you. 

So briefly what is Paul saying? Literally the phrase is “a one-woman man.” In essence a pastor must be wholly dedicated to his wife. He’s not known as a “ladies” man. His is not promiscuous (either digitally or in person). His eyes and affections are only on his wife. He is faithful to his marital covenant. 

And why is that important? Because this office is to be held by men who are devoting themselves to the proclamation of the gospel and oversight of the bride of Christ and those who serve in it are to have lives and marriages consistent with that work. In regards to their marriage, we must recall that marriage itself is a demonstration of the relationship between Christ and His church (cf. Eph. 5:22-33). It is to be a picture of the gospel. Therefore, their commitment to Christ and the work of the ministry is to demonstrate itself in singular dedication and faithfulness to their marriage covenant.

Sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable.” 

The next 3 qualifications all relate to the overall manner of the man’s life. Sober-minded carries with it the idea of clear-headed. He doesn’t just avoid drunkeness (vs. 3). He avoids anything that impacts his ability to respond with the “mind of Christ.” This would include other illicit drugs and being enslaved to their appetites, whatever they may be. He is temperate, not given to excesses. 

Self-controlled is related, and conjures up pictures of a disciplined person. They aren’t carried about by fickle feelings and desires. They don’t “follow their heart,” they lead their heart according to the Scriptures. This is also a sign they are walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:23).  

Respectable: this greek word appears only in 1 Timothy, here and in 2:9. It is actually where we get our english word for “cosmetics” from. It has to do with external appearances. Have you ever seen a leader respond in a manner that fell short of what was expected for a person in that position? There seems to be no lack of examples of this in our day. That’s what this qualification addresses. In short, this man has the biblical wisdom to consider their actions in light of varying circumstances and respond in an appropriate manner. It is crucial for a leader to evaluate not just what he may want to do or say, he must also give thought to what his action (or inaction) communicates to those who watch. All of us have seen leaders who respond in ways that left you shaking your head and wondering what just happened. This is the opposite of respectability. Men who serve as pastors are to exhibit sound wisdom that leads them to respond in a respectable manner to varying circumstances and trials. 

So what must a pastor be? He must be dedicated to his wife and disciplined in his life. Come to think of it, this is actually expected of all Christians. Are there areas you need to seek to grow in from this passage? It might be helpful to take a moment and jot down 1 or 2 areas you need to work on. Doing this will help guard this process from becoming merely a mental exercise and will turn it into an edifying process for everyone. In the next post we will examine the next qualifications in 1 Timothy. I hope to see you this evening at 6:30PM for our last corporate Q&A of the elder candidates. 

Growing With You, 

Randy Pauley, Pastor