The Noble Work of a Pastor
Passage: 1 Timothy 3:1
Of course this is the most well known passage in the NT regarding qualifications for the pastoral office. You may recall that we studied one of the other key passages on this subject last spring when we studied 1 Peter 5:1–4, but there is very little that is repetitive between the two passages. First Peter 5 is an exhortation to pastors regarding how they are to fulfill their responsibilities; whereas, 1 Timothy 3 is geared primarily toward helping Timothy and the church identify what kind of men ought to be in this position. First Peter 5 focuses on how a pastor must shepherd; whereas, 1 Timothy 3 focuses on what kind of person he must be.
It’s interesting to consider the character required in a leader following the recent Presidential election because this election provided a fascinating perspective on how little our society values character in a leader. The polls were very clear that most people didn’t see either Hilary Clinton or Donald Trump as having strong character or as being trustworthy. The fact that two people who are viewed this way won the nominations of the two major parties says something about how little character matters to our society. Now, I believer there is some room for pragmatism in how we vote for secular leaders, but our text is clear that shear pragmatism is not okay when it comes to evaluating leadership in the church. Verse 15 will remind us that the local church is the “pillar and support” of biblical truth; therefore, it is not enough that a guy has a charismatic personality, can preach a doozy, or really grow a huge ministry. If he does not have character, he is not qualified to shepherd Christ’s flock. What Paul says here is vitally important for building the church the way God wants it built. Therefore, this is an important passage for all Christians, not just pastors. And so, Lord willing, over the next three Sundays, we will discuss the significance of this office and what God requires of the man who will serve in this position. I originally planned to preach vv. 1–3 this morning, but as I began to write my sermon and to think about all of the significant implications of v. 1, I decided to use this morning to make some important introductory points regarding this paragraph and to address several important issues that are raised in v. 1.
Before we dive into the text, I’d like to make two introductory points.
Every item in this list is required of all Christians except the ability to teach and not a novice.
This is an important place to begin, because you may be tempted to let your minds wander. After all, most of you aren’t pastors, and hopefully you don’t plan on being on a search committee anytime soon, so this passage may not seem to have much significance. However, in other places, the NT calls all Christians to develop almost every quality in this list. If you take a moment to scan through vv. 2–7, I’m sure you will find multiple qualities where you need to grow because God demands them of you, not just of pastors. Now as I said, there are two exceptions because they are outside our control. Not everyone is gifted to teach. God only gives this gift to some people according to his sovereign will. Second, you can’t really control if you are novice, or a new convert. Now obviously, if you are a new Christian, you should be motivated to grow into a mature one, but doing so takes time. It’s not a sin to be a novice, but it is a sin to be a drunk or quarrelsome. And so, even if you are not a pastor and never want to be one, there is still a lot for you to gain from this text, and so I hope that you will be open to what God wants to do in your heart. I also want to note that since this list mostly consists of things that God expects from all Christians, pastors are not that different from other Christians. We are not super-Christians and we don’t have a special access to God. Now, God does require certain gifts of a pastor, and he expects a high level of maturity from a pastor, but he also expects that of all of us. And so I hope that you respect Pastor Kris and me and the office we have been given, but don’t ever think that we are inherently different from you. And you especially shouldn’t think that we are called to a level of godliness that you are not also responsible to pursue.
This list is situational. It is not intended to be all-inclusive.
First and 2 Timothy indicate that the false teachers at Ephesus were lacking in just about every quality that Paul mentions here. Therefore, Paul put this list together with an eye toward problems at Ephesus. Now that doesn’t mean that this list is not applicable to our context, but it does mean that there are potentially other qualities pastors need to have. Therefore, someone could meet every requirement in this list and still not be a good pastor. In particular, this list is focused on a pastor’s testimony and interaction with people. It actually says very little about his personal godliness. As well, it says nothing about doctrinal requirements or personal discipline, though we know from other passages that a pastor must be godly, doctrinally sound, and hard working. With these two things in mind, let’s dive into v. 1 where Paul tells us that the pastoral office is a noble calling. The heart of the verse is the statement in quotations. Paul introduces it by calling it.
The Faithful Saying
This probably means that the main statement was a well-known saying that was used to encourage men to pursue the ministry. But it is also possible that Paul includes the intro simply to add weight to what he is about to say. Regardless what follows is of great significance, and Paul wanted us to listen up. I’d like to discuss three issues surrounding the office of overseer that this statement raises.
The Title for the Office
We need to park for a while on the title “bishop.” The Greek word is episkopos, and the Episcopalian denomination gets its name from this word. It’s a compound word that literally means to “look over,” which is why most modern translations use the translation “overseer.” This is a good translation because the term is used in secular contexts for someone who manages or oversees. In our text it speaks to the pastor’s role of leading or managing the work of the church and the souls of its members.
The KJV and NKJV instead use “bishop” because King James commissioned the KJV and the Church of England of which he was a member is Episcopalian. This means they have a hierarchal structure where a bishop rules over numerous local church pastors. The Catholic and Methodist churches have a similar structure. But the NT never makes a distinction between bishops and local church pastors. Rather, overseer always refers to the leadership of a local assembly. We can see this very clearly in passages where Paul moves back and forth between the terms overseer and elder indicating that in Paul’s mind they were simply two descriptions for the same office. A clear example of this is found in Titus 1:5–7, which is a close parallel to our text. Paul commands Titus to appoint elders and then lists the qualifications of an overseer. And so there is no office of bishop that is above the local church pastor. I also want to add that there is no office of elder that is below the office of pastor. This is important to mention because a lot of churches make a distinction between ruling and teaching elders. The teaching elders are vocational pastors, and the ruling elders are quasi-pastors who don’t really feel called to the ministry, they aren’t necessarily gifted to teach, and they are not paid by the church. Instead they function as governing board in the church. My problem with this form of government is that it’s nowhere in the NT. Instead, all elders are pastors. They must meet the qualifications of this chapter, and chapter 5 is going to say that they should be paid for their service, meaning that they must be doing more than attending a monthly board meeting or carrying a small ministry load. This is why our constitution only acknowledges the two offices that are described in 1 Timothy 3. God intends for the church to be led and taught by pastors who are assisted in caring for the members by deacons. We’ll say much more about deacon ministry when we get to the next paragraph.
I also want to note that both offices are in fact offices, not spiritual gifts. That’s not to say that spiritual gifts are not necessary to fulfill the office, but there is a difference between a gift and an office. To hold either office, a church has to give it to you. When I was working at my previous church, a man called looking for help, and he identified himself as a deacon. As I spoke with him, it became apparent that he hadn’t been a deacon or even been in church for years. But in his mind, he would always be a deacon. As well, former pastors will sometimes continue to refer to themselves by the title. Often this is just sentimental, and not worth making a big deal over. It’s also true that the gifting and training to fulfill the office don’t go away when a position ends. The guy who left the office on good terms should still be treated with great respect, and we ought to value his gifts greatly. But to actually be a pastor or deacon, you must be currently called by a church to serve in the role. I bring this up because sadly there are lots of nut-jobs out there who have been dismissed from the office but refuse to give up the title. You should be very leery of the guy walking the streets or running a blog who claims some special authority from God but who is not functioning under the authority of a church. Typically there’s a reason no church wants him as their pastor.
The Good Work of the Office
This phrase reminds us that the office of overseer is not just a position; it is also a lot of work. Pastors are not 40-hour workers. There’s a very real sense in which we are never off duty. But the primary emphasis of this phrase is on the fact that pastoring is a GOOD work, or a noble work. Paul needed to emphasize this point, because the antics of the false teachers had probably tarnished the nobility of the office in the minds of many. The false teachers were greedy, divisive, and generally ungodly. As a result, some probably struggled to respect the office and those who held it.
Sadly that happens too often. When a pastor sins or has significant character flaw, very often people don’t just lose confidence in him, they lose confidence in the office as a whole. They think that all pastors are just in it for the money, are power mongers, or are just plain hypocrites. I’ve known many people who were burned by a bad pastor, and they will never view the office the same. In our day where news travels so fast, this kind of problem is magnified because so many more people hear about the bad things that happen and oftentimes with a slanted perspective. As a result, the pastoral office does not have near the honor in most people’s minds that it did 50 or 100 years ago. Much of it is justified. Churches have at times covered things to avoid embarrassment. Other pastors have had far too little accountability and made grave mistakes. And in our day where there is so much pressure for a church to grow and be big, churches have often been guilty of ignoring significant character flaws because a man can is really gifted and is making the church grow.
You may have your own struggles. It may be that some of the challenges our church faced a couple of years ago didn’t just affect your confidence in a particular pastor but in pastors in general. We should not place blind confidence in any sinner, but we must also remember that the pastoral office is a noble work. The pastor is Christ’s under-shepherd to the church who is responsible to care for the flock. God’s church deserves the best. That’s why it is essential that a pastor meet the qualifications listed in this chapter. And so I would challenge you all to respect the office of pastor while never forgetting that God has called sinners to fill that office who need prayer, encouragement, and healthy accountability. I hope that you will never turn a blind eye to obvious flaws in my character simply because I’m your pastor. The church deserves better and all of us should feel the responsibility to protect the nobility of the office.
Finally, let’s talk about…
The Desire for the Office
Paul uses two different verbs for desire here. The first one doesn’t just describe a desire; it also describes someone who is ambitiously pursuing the office. He wants the office and is going through the process of preparing for and growing into the office. Sometimes we Christians assume that any ambition for leadership is inherently proud and sinful; however, Paul says that if someone aspires to be a pastor, he desires a good work, and the assumption is that he should go after it. This is because very likely that desire is something that God has placed in the person. God has given him a love for teaching and a love for ministering to people. And so Paul is saying that if God has put it in your heart to go after such a noble work, then go after it. Don’t suppress it and don’t let fears or a desire for wealth keep you from it. It may be that the desire isn’t actually from God or that you aren’t really gifted for the office. That’s where the church comes in. When someone expresses a desire to be a pastor, the church is responsible to give him opportunities to test his gifts and to help him evaluate whether or not he can do the work. Of course this means that the church may need to do the difficult job of telling the man that he is not called. Who wants to be the guy to tell someone, you just don’t have the ability or you have this character flaw that will ruin your credibility? But if we love the church and love the person, we will be willing to say that. Churches are oftentimes not good at that. Any guy with a pulse tells us he wants to be a pastor, and we just blindly pat him on the back. But the church deserves better than a pulse, and we all need to do our part to prepare gifted men for ministry.
If you are looking for something to pray about for our church, I would encourage you to pray that God would raise up pastors and missionaries from among us and that God would use us to equip them for ministry. There is such a need in our region of the country for gifted men to plant new churches that are committed to a biblical philosophy of ministry and that are aggressively evangelistic. Not only that, there are lots of churches in our region that are struggling to survive because they don’t have gifted leadership or the pastor is old and worn out but there is no one to replace him. If those churches had a gifted pastor, they could thrive, but sadly, many of them will die for lack of leadership. SoCal is not the only place where there are needs. The inner cities of our nation among other places are in desperate need of strong churches. And of course there are many places around the world where there are hardly any gospel witnesses. It’s incredible how many people in our world have never heard and don’t even have the opportunity to hear the incredible news of the gospel. Now, I don’t say this to discourage us because God is bigger than all of these challenges. Jesus wasn’t discouraged by the need. Instead, when he saw the needs of the world, he saw an opportunity. Matthew 9:36–38 state, “But when He saw the multitudes, He was moved with compassion for them, because they were weary and scattered, like sheep having no shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, “The harvest truly is plentiful, but the laborers are few. Therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” Like Christ we should be troubled by the spiritual needs around us, and we should see a great opportunity. And then we should pray that God would raise up men among us who will do this work.
Not only should we pray, we should be looking for giftedness in our kids and encouraging them to grow their gifts. That may be hard for a parent. You want your kids to have a comfortable life and to not move far away. And the ministry doesn’t generally cooperate with those desires. But imagine how awesome it would be if your son or daughter could give his or her life to the most important mission on earth and lay up eternal treasure beyond our comprehension. You should pray to that end, and if you see potential in your child, you should encourage them to consider it. The same goes for SS teachers and youth workers and really of all of us. And if get to hear a young man to teach or preach, don’t fall asleep on him or expect him to be as refined as someone who has preached for years. Encourage him and give good feedback. Folks, there are few greater honors we could have as a church and few greater ways that we can multiply our impact, than to be a church that is launching men into the pastorate or out onto the mission field. Life Point really hasn’t done that yet to my knowledge. We ought to pray to that end, and we ought to actively work to train up people for ministry.
Of course, there may be someone here today who has the desire for the office. That’s great. There is nothing better you could do with your life than to be a fisher of men. Don’t suppress that desire. Feed it. Find ways to serve. Invest in people, and then talk with Pastor Kris or I. We’d really love to talk with you about it, and we would love to do everything we can to help you evaluate if God has called you and to help you develop your gifts.
In conclusion, the office of pastor is a noble and important work. We all need to see the great need around us for godly and gifted pastors, and of course we all need to see our own role in the spread of the gospel in our community, our nation, and our world. The harvest is great. We need pray that God would raise up more laborers and then we need to labor ourselves. Labor this week for the spread of the gospel. There is probably no other time in the year when people are more open to talking about Christ, and so take advantage of this Christmas season. Let’s all be laborers this week in the harvest of souls.
If you need to come to Christ yourself, I hope you will today. Jesus is the Lord of the harvest, and he is able to change your life and save your soul. If you don’t know that you have a relationship with him, let me or one of the other people in our church share with you how you can come to know Christ and experience the new life only he can give.