Lesson 6: "A Bishop Then Must Be" (I-Timothy 3:2)
I Timothy 3:1-7
Paul's Letters To Preachers. This is lesson #6. Welcome again! In this lesson we shall try to cover seven verses (I-Tim. 3:1-7). This section covers Paul's instruction to Timothy on the qualifications for elders. There is a similar section in the book of Titus. A bishop is a church officer, i.e. one that has been made an overseer. The word "bishop" (as used here, I-Tim. 3:1) is the English form coming from the Greek word "episkopos," which literally means "an overseer." The New Testament church, i.e. that church established on Pentecost, does have (or should have) congregational overseers. Today as well as in ancient time, the N.T. uses a synonymous word "elder(s)" far more often than this word: "bishop." We have already come across this word, this office, several times; I'm sure you will remember. Paul called the Ephesian elders down to Miletus (Acts 20:17). Paul and Barnabas "ordained them elders in every church" on the first missionary journey, (Acts 14:23). The church at Philippi had bishops (Phil. 1:1). The churches in Judea had "elders" (Acts 11:30). As I have said, "elders" and "bishops" are one and the same thing. In every congregation, this always occurs in the plural. Churches of the N.T. always had (and should have) a plurality of elders, i.e. two or more.
It is my understanding that some object to the word church office(rs) saying that no church office is authorized in the New Testament. They interpret elders to simply be the older men of the congregation. They reject the idea of an eldership. I don't want to get into a battle of semantics; but, one that has been selected and ordained (as Paul and Barnabas did it, however they did it, Acts 14:23) i.e. assigned certain duties and thus certain functions are expected of them by their brethren, they obviously qualify.as an officer of that organization which in this case is the church. I don't see how you can interpret it otherwise. Thus, I do not buy into that idea.
Before we read our text, it might be well to say: there are six words all used synonymously in the N.T. that designate this same church office. I hesitate to give you more than you may want to chew; but, multiple terms, designating the same thing, sometimes brings on real confusion. However, when you get it squared away in your mind (that it all refers to the same thing); then, it all becomes much simpler. So, I hope by discussing these six words I can simplify and not confuse you further. The six words that are used interchangeably in the N.T. are: ELDER, BISHOP, OVERSEER, PASTOR, SHEPHERD and PRESBYTER. All these words can (and do) designate the same church officer. Let me give you a tip (here) that will help you sort out these words. It is my understanding three of these words come from the Greek and three of them come from the Hebrew, i.e. two of the primary languages that were extant in the first century. The O.T. was written in Hebrew with only a slight exception. The New Testament was written in Greek. First off, the word "elder" comes from the Hebrew (in which the O.T. was written). At first in the O.T. it simply meant an older person or what we might call a senior citizen. It then as time progressed took on the meaning of one who was wiser and more experienced as well as older. Finally, as the O.T. came to a close and in the days of Jesus in the Jewish system this word "elder" was commonly applied to a synagogue leader also, sometimes called a "ruler of the synagogue." Thus, when the church was established, the word "elder" was adopted and applied to those who were ordained and designated as congregational overseers, i.e. those who had been appointed to feed and nurture the local congregation. By "feeding," of course we mean figuratively to teach, i.e. those responsible for teaching and instructing the congregation. They may teach the congregation themselves or they may designate and acquire the help of others in doing that. Thus, preachers and teachers are under the oversight of the elders, or more specifically the eldership. The word "pastor" and the word "shepherd" (for all practical purposes) are simply a Hebrew variation of the word "elder." The Hebrew nation, i.e. the Israelites, were a nation of herdsmen. Abraham was a herdsman, Isaac had herds, Jacob and his sons had great herds and flocks, David was a shepherd and there were many, many more of course. All the Jewish people knew what a shepherd or pastor was, i.e. an overseer. Right? When that same idea was expressed in the Greek language and translated into English, we have the word "bishop" or "overseer." A mature person or older person when expressed in Greek (i.e. the equivalent of the word "elder" in Hebrew), comes to us through the Greek words "Episkopos" and "Presbuteros" from which the English form turns out to be presbyter or presbytery. For example, in I Tim. 4:14, when Paul said to Timothy, "Neglect not the gift...which was give thee...with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery," Paul was simply saying (with a Greek flavor to his speech) that this gift came at the time of the laying on of hands of the eldership. Presbytery is the Greek form; eldership is the Hebrew form. We won't get down to analyzing that laying on of hand business right here; but, the point we want to get here is simply that all these words: PRESBYTER, OVERSEER, BISHOP, ELDER, PASTOR and SHEPHERD mean exactly the same thing when used in connection with a church office. They are used interchangeably in the N.T. For example, the elders of the church as Ephesus that Paul called down to Miletus are referred to as "elders" in Acts 20:17, KJV. Down in v.28 of the same chapter, (11 verses down) these same men are referred to as "overseers." Thus, elders and overseers are the same people. In that verse, they are told by Paul to "feed the flock," i.e. pastor the congregation at Ephesus. Other places in the N.T. other of these six terms are used to designate this same office. Now, I have given this to you as the Bible teaches it, really. However, you will find this terminology has been highly perverted and abused by the denominational world around us today. For example, in some common religious circles, a "pastor" is simply a dictator in their little man made society. Others use the word "pastor" and the word "minister" interchangeably; which again is incorrect usage. A "pastor" is an overseer, a "minister" is a servant. The word "pastor" occurs only once in the KJV (that is Eph. 4:11) and it occurs there in the plural form. If I might make a simple, honest appeal to you right here; learn to use these words correctly. Use them correctly. Its part of that everyday teaching you do by simple association with others that you don't even know you are doing. So many people use the word "church," for example, to mean a building, "that little brick church down the road." Have you heard that? The church is not a building, that is incorrect usage. Study Acts 2:47! Please take the time to learn these terms and then PLEASE use them correctly. You see, this goes a long ways in teaching others and making them aware of all that denominational nonsense we have already mentioned. Well, that was free, I won't charge you for that. Now, back to the grind. Let's read! Are you ready? Beginning in I-Tim. 3:1. We'll read seven verses. V.I, here we go: "This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil."
O.K., now keep your perspective! Paul is saying this to Timothy, a gospel preacher. Timothy was an evangelist or a missionary to the Ephesians. And, we know there was (at least at one time) an eldership at Ephesus. Paul called these men down to Miletus, Acts 20:17, do you remember? There were probably still elders at Ephesus when Paul wrote this. However, I think we might reasonably conclude from what is said here that either (#1) the eldership had dissolved or (tt2) there were problems within the Ephesian eldership itself, probably the later. Paul had prophesied this would happen, do you remember, some five years (or more) before. In Acts 20:30, as Paul talked to the Ephesian elders themselves during their meeting at Miletus; Paul said: "of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them." My guess would be, that it, had THEN already happened when Paul wrote this to Timothy. Some elder(s) were not conducting themselves scripturally. Paul said there, they would "speak perverse things." Why Paul? "to draw away disciples after them." Now, what is an elder? an overseer, right? An "overseer" is not a legislator. An "overseer" is an officer given a place of responsibility, a "shepherd" if you will. The chief Shepherd is Jesus himself (I-Pet. 5:4), He is the "Shepherd" and "Bishop" of your souls (I-Pet. 2:25). If you will take the time look up those passages, the word "Shepherd" there is capitalized, i.e. referring to Christ himself. The elders or bishops at Ephesus were what we might call: undershepherds, i.e. answerable or responsible to the Chief Shepherd. Paul's counsel to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:28), two verses up the page, was: "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood." Now, that was/is the duty of an elder: (#1) take heed, (#2) feed the flock, i.e. the church, Christ's church, the Lord's church, the church of God (all the same). Now, what "perverse things" were those apostatizing elders teaching? We don't know! Rev. 2:2 could be the explanation, at least part of it; but, don't take it as an absolute.
Now, what I've tried to do here is get you focused in on Ephesus and why Paul was saying these things to Timothy. And, before I forget it. Acts 20:28 also gives a little hint as to who makes elders...elders. Paul said, "over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers," i.e. elders or pastors or shepherds or bishops. But, right now, let's get back to those seven verses in I-Timothy chapter three. V.I, Paul said: "This is a true saying." We mentioned this cliche once before (up in 1:15). It's one of Paul's "faithful sayings." The axiom (here) is or the saying is: "If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work." O.K., first off, notice that Paul said "the office of a bishop," thus, a bishop is an officer. Right? Next, "this is a good work." Serving as an elder is a good work. To desire to serve as an elder is a worthy ambition. Is desiring the office a requirement to be an elder; i.e. to desire the office. Obviously, one cannot be drafted for such a work against their will; however, I'm not sure that's the point in Paul's comment to Timothy. In v.2-7 there is a list of requirements. "A bishop... must!" (v.2), i.e. here are some characteristics necessary in serving as an elder. (#1) He must be blameless, or we might say: above reproach. (#2) He must be the husband of one wife, i.e. he must be a married man or what we might call: an established family man. (tt3) He must be vigilant, for vigilant some translations say: temperate, the idea is to have the capability of restraining passions. (#4) He must be sober, i.e. sober minded. This doesn't refer to strong drink. It means one who is earnest, not flighty or flippant. (#5) He must be of good behavior. Others translate this: orderly, i.e. on time, diligent, organized; the contrast would be slothful or lazy. (#6) He must be given to hospitality or one who is a lover of strangers, i.e. one who is willing to entertain, assist and care for strangers. (#7) He must be apt to teach. In other words, one capable of feeding the flock, i.e. teaching God's word, the Bible and be ready to perform this duty. He must oversee a congregation as a shepherd would oversee a flock of sheep. Then (#8, v.3). He must not be given to wine. Some translations leave this out and connect it with "not a brawler" further down in this verse. Obviously, there is a close association. The point is strong drink, we would say. An elder cannot participate in such, even a little bit. The word "vigilant" or "temporate" up the page comes into play here also. (#9) An elder must not be a striker, i.e. he must not be a quitter. The idea behind this word, the commentaries say is that an elder must not be violent, i.e one who would strike another, hit another, or use force. I'm inclined to think of the word temper. An elder must not have a temper, we would say. (#10) An elder must not be greedy of filthy lucre. The word "lucre" is a reference to money. "Filthy lucre" of course would be money that comes from extortion or gambling, i.e. he is not willing to use a wrong means to obtain money. The first thing that comes to my mind is, he can't be bought. He's a true shepherd. And the pocketbook is a very strong indicator of one's character. (#11) And elder must be patient. Some use the world "gentle," here. Obviously, the point gets close to temper again. Some people, some Christians are unreasonable in their attitude toward others. An elder must not be domineering. He must be reasonable and willing to listen, not showing resentment and not one who gives orders. All orders come from the Chief Shepherd, i.e. Christ himself and what he has had written for us. I'm talking about the Bible. (#12) Not a brawler. Obviously, this characteristic is in contrast to "patient," that we just covered. An elder must be patient, not a brawler. Some render this, not contentious, i.e. one who must always have their own way. This DOES NOT, of course, mean that an elder can compromise when it comes to the scriptures. Let's go to (#13), which is: an elder must not be covetous, i.e. not anxious for sudden riches. Paul gets back to this thought in ch. 6, he said: that a greed for money and wealth is the root of all evil. This thought probably gives a little insight into some of the attitudes at Ephesus. An elder must be bigger than that and more spiritual, recognizing of course that attitude. And then, (#14), one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity. In v.5, the apostle throws in the explanation for this requirement. And then, v.6 (or #15), an elder must not be a novice, i.e. he must not be a beginner or in other words not a new convert. He must have studied the scriptures and be capable of teaching it with experience enough to handle the difficult job that is assigned to him. How old and elder must be and how long he has to be a Christian before becoming a elder is of course a matter of judgment. It doesn't mean he must be perfect. Finally (#16 and the last requirement) an elder or bishop must have a good report of them which are without, i.e. even those who are not members of the church. In other words, he is generally respected in the neighborhood. I'll see you in our next lesson! Until then, have a good day.