“This is a faithful saying: If a man desires the position of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence.”1 Timothy 3:1-4
The New Testament speaks of elders and deacons of the church. The first are named in various ways, primarily as shepherd, overseer, or bishop. These names all refer to the same position.
A pastor may have special abilities, such as those of an apostle who plants churches, or those of an evangelist who is especially gifted to lead souls to repentance. He may have the gift of a shepherd who is especially skilled in leading a congregation. He may have the gift of a teacher who can lead believers deeper into godly truths.
In Ephesians 4:11-16, Paul tells us why God organized it this way, namely “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting.”
From these words of the apostle, we see what a calling it is to be a messenger of God and how much responsibility such a position entails. If we look back to the beginning of Christianity, then we see how seriously the position of pastor was taken. Only those who were called by God and who were specially equipped and gifted for this position were approved. As long as these requirements were fulfilled, Christianity bloomed. But when pastors were no longer upholding that which God required them to, Christianity declined. Over time, no difference could be seen between those who confessed Christ and those who didn’t.
An old proverb says: “Like the shepherd, so the sheep.” This is generally how it is in the spiritual domain. If the shepherd is not the person that God’s Word requires him to be, how can the congregation live according to the standard in God’s Word? God’s Word gives us clear instruction how the shepherd should be and how the sheep should be. What are these requirements for an elder or a New Testament pastor?
The Lord Himself calls His pastors. When He calls someone and equips him with His Holy Spirit, then we can be certain that he lives and works according to the godly specifications. God is a good and faithful God who is faithful to His promises. But He does not allow Himself to be deterred from His requirements. He has not yet made a mistake, even though some who had been called by God were found unfaithful. However, the Lord is not at fault for this, as that person is solely responsible for it. God gives enough grace to everyone who walks before Him with a humble heart.
Let us study the requirements that God charges a pastor with, as they are described in 1 Timothy 3:2-6. I am convinced that Timothy carefully and precisely observed these instructions. If they are not observed, only disorder and ruin can follow. Such an important and responsibility-laden position should be undertaken with caution, prudence, and care.
The world shows us a good model in regard to the distribution of positions. Only the most skilled people are chosen for positions requiring responsibility. The government chooses only the best people to be ambassadors to other countries, in order to represent their country in a worthy manner. Why should God call someone as an ambassador of His Son who does not have the specific abilities that are absolutely vital, according to God’s wisdom?
A pastor should represent his own house well and raise his children to be obedient. Paul says: “For if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3:5)
The right pastor will be irreproachable. Nothing evil will be connected to him. He has grace before God and man to walk honestly, righteously, and faithfully. He will be sober and will act carefully toward those of the opposite sex so that his name cannot be tarnished. A lustful pastor is a disgrace to God and the church.
A bishop or overseer is a faithful steward of God. Practically speaking, who would make a disloyal steward the head of his affairs? No one would do that, and neither does God. A congregation that is spiritual could not allow a pastor to take up that position if he is not what God’s Word says he should be. However, because many congregations are not in right standing with God and His Word, they employ pastors and require them to preach what they want them to preach. This is why Christianity in general looks so sad today.
If we look at the beginning of Christianity, we find a great difference between then and today. What is the reason? If a pastor does not live his life as it is required of him, according to God’s Word, then he also cannot preach very authoritatively. He will not be able to take it seriously. He will have to overlook some things and won’t be able to accurately set a dividing line between a life with God and a life in sin. The result will be that the world will gradually creep into the congregation. It will become liberal and lean more towards modernism because it does not want to be old-fashioned.
If the pastor is not patient himself and willing to accept correction, then he cannot admonish others to be patient and teachable. Paul knew well what he wrote. His words still have the same value today.
If a pastor speaks evil about his brothers, how can he tell a congregation to ignore gossip? Someone once told me that a certain brother was not building up his congregation but was tearing it down by speaking all kinds of evil behind his brothers’ backs, sowing distrust. If that truly can be said of a pastor, then he is on the wrong path and is not the pastor he should be in accordance with God’s Word. May we live in reverence before God so that we may be righteous ambassadors for Christ.