1 Timothy 3:1-7

The Grace Notes devotions in 2024 are based on verses from 1 Timothy. Each devotion includes Greek, pastoral ministry notes, and prayer.

  • January: Paul’s salutation (1 Tim 1:1–2).
  • February: Paul’s purpose in writing to Timothy (1 Tim 1:3–11)
  • March: Paul’s personal story (vv. 12–14) and the general gospel truths to be drawn from it (vv. 15–17).
  • April: Paul’s repeated charge to Timothy to preach the truth in opposition to the false teachers (vv. 18–20)
  • May: Paul’s instruction to Timothy about prayer—for whom, for what, and why (1 Tim 2:1–7)
  • June: The roles of men and women in the life of the church (1 Tim. 2:8-15)

This month we consider the qualifications for overseers in the church, 1 Tim 3:1-7. As pastors we do well to read and ponder this section of God’s word often. When we do, the Spirit leads us to pray humbly and confidently.

3.1 Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος· εἴ τις ἐπισκοπῆς ὀρέγεται, καλοῦ ἔργου ἐπιθυμεῖ.  2 δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι, μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, νηφάλιον, σώφρονα, κόσμιον, φιλόξενον, διδακτικόν,  3 μὴ πάροινον, μὴ πλήκτην, ἀλλὰ ἐπιεικῆ, ἄμαχον, ἀφιλάργυρον,  4 τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος·  5 (εἰ δέ τις τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου προστῆναι οὐκ οἶδεν, πῶς ἐκκλησίας θεοῦ ἐπιμελήσεται;)  6 μὴ νεόφυτον, ἵνα μὴ τυφωθεὶς εἰς κρίμα ἐμπέσῃ τοῦ διαβόλου.  7 δεῖ δὲ καὶ μαρτυρίαν καλὴν ἔχειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν, ἵνα μὴ εἰς ὀνειδισμὸν ἐμπέσῃ καὶ παγίδα τοῦ διαβόλου.  [1]

We can outline this section this way:

  • A well-known saying to introduce the topic (1 Tim 3:1)
  • A general qualification necessary in the church (1 Tim 3:2a)
  • Details about that general qualification (1 Tim 3:2b–6)
  • A general qualification necessary in the community (1 Tim 3:7)

3.1 Πιστὸς ὁ λόγος· εἴ τις ἐπισκοπῆς ὀρέγεται, καλοῦ ἔργου ἐπιθυμεῖ.

It was a faithful saying then—it remains a true and reliable saying today—in spite of what society might say or how I might feel about it on any given day: “If anyone stretches himself out towards the vocation of spiritual leader in Christ’s church, he is desiring something good/noble.” It is good and noble because overseers are gifts from the risen and ascended Savior, because they serve and proclaim him, and because they lead people to him and to every spiritual blessing in him. Let us marvel anew at the gracious privilege of leading and teaching among God’s holy people.

 2 δεῖ οὖν τὸν ἐπίσκοπον ἀνεπίλημπτον εἶναι,

It is necessary (δεῖ)—it can be no other way—that the overseer must be above reproach, not able to be disqualified rightly. Believers in the church must not have just cause for saying, “This man does not have the needed character for this high calling.”

μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, νηφάλιον, σώφρονα, κόσμιον, φιλόξενον, διδακτικόν,  3 μὴ πάροινον, μὴ πλήκτην, ἀλλὰ ἐπιεικῆ, ἄμαχον, ἀφιλάργυρον,  4 τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου καλῶς προϊστάμενον, τέκνα ἔχοντα ἐν ὑποταγῇ μετὰ πάσης σεμνότητος·  5 (εἰ δέ τις τοῦ ἰδίου οἴκου προστῆναι οὐκ οἶδεν, πῶς ἐκκλησίας θεοῦ ἐπιμελήσεται;)  6 μὴ νεόφυτον, ἵνα μὴ τυφωθεὶς εἰς κρίμα ἐμπέσῃ τοῦ διαβόλου. 

The list that follows explains what ἀνεπίλημπτον all entails. The list includes positive and negative elements, progressing from the man himself to his relationship with people. First, he must be “a one-woman man,” fully dedicated to the sanctity of marriage and his own wife, if he is married. He must be of sober mind (νηφάλιον) and sound judgment (σώφρονα), thinking before he speaks or acts and acting in a way that displays godly wisdom. He must act in a proper way (κόσμιον), earning the respect of God’s people. The overseer must warmly welcome outsiders (φιλόξενον) because he wants to teach them and lead them to the Lord Jesus Christ. Believers in the church will notice and imitate such hospitality. “Able to teach” (διδακτικόν) means especially that he knows and can explain the sound teachings of God’s word and that he has the wisdom and courage to refute false teachings. He will not be “alongside wine” (πάροινον) as if alcohol were his needed companion. He will not have the disposition of a bully (πλήκτην), pressing for his own way in non-doctrinal matters. Instead, he will be gentle and gracious (ἐπιεικῆ); he will be a non-fighting man (ἄμαχον). He will not be a lover of money; he will be content with his material possessions because the Lord, who will never leave him or forsake him, is his greatest treasure (Heb 13:5-6). The overseer must be able to lead and take care of his own family. If his relationship with his own children is marred by disobedience and lacking in dignity, how can he care for the precious souls of others in the church of God? He can’t. Finally, the overseer must not be a newly-planted believer (νεόφυτον) in the church. It takes time for a sapling to grow into a sturdy tree, and a new believer needs years of maturation before entering into such a high calling. The Lord did not call the Apostle Paul into a role of leadership in the church until about fourteen years after his conversion. The devil has his sights set on all overseers in the church, but a not-yet-matured overseer would have a double target on his back. 

7 δεῖ δὲ καὶ μαρτυρίαν καλὴν ἔχειν ἀπὸ τῶν ἔξωθεν, ἵνα μὴ εἰς ὀνειδισμὸν ἐμπέσῃ καὶ παγίδα τοῦ διαβόλου. 

It is necessary (δεῖ)—it can be no other way—that the overseer must have a good reputation with people outside the church. The overseer’s character, or lack thereof, must not be an obstacle for people to find the Savior they need.

When 21st-century pastors read these verses today, their hearts will be filled with humility and confidence. There are two reasons for humility. First, we are imperfect sinners. We are unworthy to be citizens in the kingdom, much less overseers. Second, if there is anything good in us, it is the result of the Lord’s sanctifying activity in us. The Spirit of God has knocked off the rough edges and filled us with good things. He has reshaped the way we think, talk, and act. If we are above reproach inside and outside the church, it is only because of him.

A would-be blood donor who completes the long list of screening questions might be led to say, “There are many people who for any number of reasons are not qualified to give blood. But I am, and I will!” When faithful pastors read this list of qualifications, they are strengthened in their resolve to serve. They are led to say, “By God’s grace, I am not disqualified from serving in Christ’s church. I will continue to stretch out towards this noble vocation, serving as well as I can.”

At the same time, we are not unaware of the devil’s schemes. We will not allow ourselves to rest on our laurels or to think the battle is over. We will put on God’s armor every day, imploring the Lord to keep us from falling into any sin that would disqualify us from ministry.

Fellow pastors, we need each other. We can encourage each other: “You, dear brother, are qualified to serve in the church. I give thanks for you. Keep serving.” We can also admonish each other, speaking the truth in love, especially when we see blind spots or weaknesses. As fellow captains in the fight, let’s remind each other to be careful, lest we fall. With joy and endurance, let’s serve God’s precious people, working with them to win new souls for eternity.

Is there a more noble vocation?

Prayer: Dear Father in heaven, the church exists in this sinful world only because you have sent your Son and your Spirit. Thank you for redeeming us by the blood of your Son and for making us holy by the work of your Spirit. Thank you also for the grace of ministry. Fill me and my brothers in ministry with healthy humility and cautious confidence. Remind us to pray for each other. Help us to speak the truth in love to each other. Use us to make your kingdom come; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

P.S. For further reading, I recommend Pres. em. David Valleskey’s recent book, The Splendid Task of the Ministry: A Pastoral Commentary on the Pastoral Epistles (NPH, 2023).


[1] Holmes, M. W. (2011–2013). The Greek New Testament: SBL Edition (1 Ti 3). Lexham Press; Society of Biblical Literature.

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