“Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires a noble task. Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
Once again, when Paul says this is a “trustworthy saying,” he’s telling us, “Yo, this is not too good to be true.” All right, so he didn’t say “Yo.” I don’t think that word even existed in Bible times, and not in Hebrew anyway.
The overseer, or bishop, presides in a particular congregation and focuses on preaching and teaching the Word in that church. Being an overseer requires diligence and application, and it doesn’t give back much because the overseer must focus more on their work than on the advantages of the office. It’s a lot of work, but it’s good work, because it’s designed to bring people to God. If a person wants it, he should earnestly desire it to give glory to God and do good to men. Paul is saying that this is something to be respected, and that Timothy should help the person achieve this desire.
Every workman, however, must be properly qualified. What comes up next is like a Bible-time job application. If a person can check all of these traits off, he is qualified to become an overseer.
First of all, the man must be above reproach. He doesn’t lie, and he gives as little opportunity for blame as possible. He must be the husband of one wife, which to us now might seem an odd thing to mention, but back then it was common for both Jews and Gentiles to have more than one wife, either having divorced and remarried, or having multiple wives at once.
He must also be vigilant. He must be looking out for attacks by Satan, both on himself and on those in his charge. He must take every opportunity to do good to them. He must have good behavior and composure, and he must be open to strangers and ready to entertain (and, in order to do this, he must truly love others).
True to the work he might possibly end up doing, this man must be able to preach and communicate the knowledge God has given him to other people. He must not drink a lot, because that would tarnish his ability to do his job well. He must be patient with others, not verbally abusive, and not eager for a debate. He must be mild and loving, and above the way of the world, not doing things for monetary gain. Covetousness is bad in anyone, but it’s even worse in overseers, who is called to spend so much time talking to God.
Matthew Henry’s Commentary adds, “For how shall men teach others to govern their tongues who do not make conscience of keeping them under good government themselves?”
The man must manage his own family well in order to set an example to others and to prove that he is able to take care of the bigger church family. It is the duty of his children to submit to his authority “with proper respect,” which, in other versions of the Bible, is “with all gravity.” The best way to keep inferiors obedient to your authority is to be grave with them.
The longer you study and grow in your relationship with God, the less prone to pride you will become, because the knowledge of the Bible and God teaches humility. This is why the aspiring overseer can’t be a recent convert. Pride turned angels into demons. Satan was cast out of heaven because of it—why do we think we would be given a lighter sentence?
Lastly, the man needs to have a good reputation with outsiders. He can’t have said anything in the past that causes reproach to others, because the devil will use it to ensnare them and turn them against Christ.
Though this is a difficult job to take, the reward of an overseer’s work is great. “When the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away.” (1 Peter 5:4 NKJV)