Tuesday, 5 December 2017
This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. 1 Timothy 3:1
Paul, having excluded women from any position of authority within the church, now turns to those positions which need to be filled, and what the qualifications for the men who will fill them will be. He uses the same expression that he used in verse 1:15, “This is a faithful saying.” Literally, the Greek states, “Faithful is the word.” Paul is making a statement of profound emphasis, and this introduces it. From there, he begins what is the “faithful saying” with the words, “If a man desires the position of bishop.”
The word translated as “bishop” is episkopé. It literally means “overseer.” It should be noted that the term is used in the elsewhere synonymously with “presbyter” as well as with other positions. Thus, this can be translated as “elder,” “overseer,” “bishop,” etc., without doing damage to the context of the words. A literal translation of “overseer” would be best for clarity though. It actually is one who was to care for, or oversee, the church without regard to actual rank. In larger denominations today, the idea of what is considered a “bishop” is actually not a biblical concept at all. Such hierarchies are unknown in Paul’s pastoral designations. For a lengthy and thorough commentary on this, one can refer Albert Barnes’ evaluation of this verse.
The word “man” is not in the Greek, but it is rightly supplied based on his words which concluded chapter 2 concerning women. It is men alone that are entitled to this position. In today’s play church, women who hold such a position, and act as if their authority of oversight is valid, are not acting in accord with God’s word.
Next, the word translated as “desire” gives the sense of stretching oneself out in order to reach an object. It implies more than simply desiring, but to seek after. Thus a term such as “aspire” would be more fitting. The person desires, and works towards the fulfillment of that desire with anticipation. In this stretching himself out in order to become a bishop, Paul says that, “he desires a good work.”
The word “desires” here is not the same as was just used. Instead, it means “to set one’s heart upon.” The office to which such a man desires is truly a good work because it is one of the highest callings of all. Such a man has the desire to lead others in holy living, right doctrine, and a more perfect understanding of the things of God. It is a job filled with difficulties, often tiring in the extreme, and one which is frequently marred by people who wish to usurp the position through various means. This doesn’t mean that those wanting to usurp actually desire the position themselves, but they wish to show their supposed qualifications by making the overseer look bad in order to make themselves look good. One must be ready for many obstacles, and many fiery darts from Satan, when assuming such a position.
Life application: For those who know the rewards and trials of being an overseer in a church, aspiring such a position is truly a good work. The people of the church have need for sound doctrine, patient teachers of the word, and someone willing to repeat his thoughts again and again (and again). For those who persevere in the teaching of right doctrine, those who they oversee will truly be blessed in their knowledge of the word.
Lord God, Your word notes that for a man to aspire to being an overseer in the church is to desire a good work. And yet, it is a work fraught with many complicated challenges. Help each of us to look to our leaders with gratitude, keeping them in prayer, and granting them grace as they fill such a difficult duty. And thank You for those overseers who are faithful to Your word, attending to it as the most cherished gift which they can then impart to us. Amen.