A Commentary by John Stott


1 Timothy. 3:1-7. 1), The overseers.

Paul begins with another *trustworthy saying* (the first having occurred in 1:15), that is, a popular proverb which he now endorses as reliable. It is not always clear whether the maxim in question is what precedes or what follows. Since the other sayings relate in some way to the doctrine of salvation, some commentators suggest that this one (in 3:1a) looks back to 2:15 as ‘a well-known Christian saying about the effect of the Incarnation on women’. But virtually all English translators and most commentators relate the saying rather to what follows, namely: *If anyone set his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task* (1).

Although *orego (sets his heart on)* means literally to ‘stretch oneself, reach out one’s hand’ for (BAGD) and so to ‘aspire’ to (REB, NRSV), Paul is not condoning a selfish ambition for the prestige and power which are associated with the ordained ministry. He is rather recognizing that the pastorate is *a noble task*, because it involves the care and nurture of the people of God, and that it is laudable to desire this privilege. But is not becoming a pastor a matter rather of divine call than of human aspiration? Yes, elsewhere Paul clearly affirms the call and appointment of God (E.g. Acts 20:28). So what we call the ‘selection’ of candidates for the pastorate entails according to Paul three essentials: the call of God, the inner aspiration and conviction of the individuals concerned, and their conscientious screening by the church as to whether they meet the requirements which the apostle now goes on to list.

The first and general requirement is that *the overseer must be above reproach* (2a). This cannot mean ‘faultless’, or no child of Adam would ever qualify for a share in the oversight. It means rather ‘of blameless reputation’ (JBP) and ‘has to do with irreproachable *observable* conduct’. This provides biblical warrant for requiring references or testimonials, so that a candidate’s public reputation may be ascertained.

Under Paul’s direction, as he proceeds from the general to the particular, we are now able to compile a kind of questionnaire relating to a candidate for the pastorate. The following ten areas are to be investigated.—————-

The John Stott Bible Study is taken from The Message of 1 Timothy. The Bible Speaks Today John Stott. Used by permission of Inter-Varsity Press UK, Nottingham. All rights reserved.