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Rays of Light Bible Lessons by Keith Holder

THE OFFICE OF A BISHOP

1 Tim 3:1-7 This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover he must have a good report of them, which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

In the lesson text, as well as in Paul's letter to Titus, we find God's instructions regarding the government of His church - the church of which He made His Son, Jesus Christ the Head. The spiritual leadership of each congregation of the church of Christ is to be a plurality of elders, referred to in the lesson text as bishops. The epistle to Titus assures us that bishops and elders are the same office (Titus 1:5 & 7). Various scriptures also refer to bishops and elders as pastors, overseers, shepherds, and presbyters, of which the plurality of this office is referred to in 1 Tim. 4:14 as the presbytery. For purposes of this study, the term by which individuals holding this office are generally known as today, will be used - that of elder.

Having identified the government of the church of Christ as its eldership, Paul now, as inspired by the Holy Spirit of God, tells us the importance of this office, and then describes the qualifications necessary for one to be appointed to this position of leadership within a congregation of Christians. First of all it is an office that must be desired! If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A number of things should be said about this office within the body of Christ. First of all, it receives its authority and blessing from God. It is not an office that had its origin from the mind of any earthly being. God wills this form of church government. Although authority rests in a local eldership, it is not a position of prestige or acclaim. Rather, it is a position of servitude, requiring diligence in doing good work, for the godly benefit of all members of the congregation. God alone is to receive the glory for any, and all, spiritual success of each particular church of Christ.

To the elders of the church of Christ in Ephesus, Paul said the good work,required of them, was to give spiritual nourishment to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He (Jesus Christ) hath purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28). The apostle Peter, Himself an elder of a congregation of God's people, told us the duty of elders was to feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as being lords over God's heritage, but being ensamples to the flock (See 1 Pet. 5:1-3).

Continuing with verses 2 through 7, of the lesson text, Paul told Timothy, as well as all that read his inspired word today, the qualifications necessary for one to be appointed to, and become, an elder of a particular church of Christ. A bishop (an elder) then must be blameless. Blameless, as used here, does not mean perfection. Rather, he must be a man exemplifying good morals, one that is truthful, honest, and upright in the eyes of others. He must be without hypocrisy. He must be a man having a good reputation - one that conducts himself in a manner that will not bring reproach against the body of Christ.

An elder must be ...the husband of one wife. Firstly, this requirement prohibits polygamy, which may have been fairly common at the time of this writing, and may be common in many cultures of the world today. Secondly, an unmarried Christian does no qualify for the office of an elder. Marriage to one wife is a requirement. If marriage were not required, there would have been no need for Paul to add verses 4 and 5, which states that an elder must be one that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?) Thirdly, since a marriage to a second wife is right in the sight of God, after the death of the first, this fact alone would not disqualify one from becoming an elder. Fourthly, remarriage following an unscriptural divorce, one that is not authorized by God, would exclude one from the family of God, and by its necessary inference, disqualifies one from the office of elder.

An elder must be ...vigilant. That is, he must be constantly on guard. Having the oversight of a congregation of God's people, requires the same devoted watchfulness as a good shepherd that protects, cares for, and feeds his flock. An elder must be ...sober. The word, "sober," as used here, includes, but is not restricted to,being the opposite of drunkenness. Here it also means to be in total control of one's passion and pride. To be sober-minded is to be careful, circumspect, and through wisdom, exercise sound judgment, in fulfilling the spiritual needs of the congregation, of which he is an overseer. An elder must be ...of good behavior. He must exercise, with all gravity, the virtues of Christian conduct that are becoming to the office of an elder, that it may not be slandered in any way. An elder must be ...given to hospitality. Elders must be openly receptive to all that are in need. Not only is it their personal duty, but it is also their responsibility to be a good example of a good neighbor, that willingly searches for, and administers caring service to the poor and needy. An elder must be ...apt to teach. They must, first of all, be a dedicated, zealous student of God's inspired word, having assimilated its precepts, and wisely applied them to their own lives. And then they must possess the teaching skills that are necessary to communicate, to others, the truths found in the Holy Scriptures.

An elder must be ...not given to wine. Wine, other alcoholic beverages, or any other mind-altering barbiturate, narcotic, etc., must not be taken into the body of an elder, to any extent that it will not allow him to carry out, to the best of his abilities, the duties and responsibilities inherent in his appointed office. An elder must be, at all times, in complete control of his mental capacities. One given to strong drink would be incapable of fulfilling this required duty to his congregation, and would also serve as a bad example to his fellow Christians. An elder must be ...no striker. An elder must, at all times, promote peace within a congregation of God's people. He must not be quick tempered, under adverse conditions and circumstances, that may arise within the body of Christ, of which he has been appointed an overseer.

An elder must be ...not greedy of filthy lucre. To be greedy implies an insatiable desire to possess, or acquire, wealth beyond what one needs or deserves. The character an elder must be void of such selfish desires. And most certainly, he must never use his position, in the body of Christ, for personal gain. An elder must be ...patient. He must possess the qualities and demeanor of gentleness, forbearance, tolerance, endurance, and self-control at all times, especially in matters concerning members of the church of Christ. An elder must be ...not a brawler. To be quarrelsome and contentious should never be found in the character of an elder. The battle for superiority is to be fought and won with Satan, and his followers, not with God's children. An elder must be ...not covetous. Whether it is wealth, power, or recognition, it must never be desired or gained from others, by deceptive and dishonorable means. An inordinate desire for that which belongs to others is sinful in all people, but in the character of an elder, it must never be found. Covetousness will destroy and make useless all other God-given talents a man may possess.

An elder must be ...not a novice. He must not be a recently converted, newborn babe in Christ. Without the wisdom and understanding gained from the experience of applying one's knowledge of God's word, it is impossible to successfully teach, lead, and oversee the members of a congregation of God's people. A novice would not possess the knowledge, inner strength, and stamina to resist the devious ways of Satan. Neither could a novice Christian withstand the trials and tribulations that, most assuredly, would try his faith, in carrying out the duties and responsibilities of an elder. The reason a novice, a newborn Christian, should never desire nor be appointed to the office of an elder, is given by Paul in the lesson text: lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.

An elder must have a good report of them, which are without. The church of Christ is in constant scrutiny by non-Christians - all those without, that are looking into its membership, and examining its every action. The world is filled with anti-Christian scoffers, constantly searching for reasons to criticize and condemn the doctrine of God, and His children, who profess it, and conduct their lives by it. Elders must never, by their own manner of living, or allow the conduct of the membership, to bring scandal or reproach on the body of Christ. The reputation of the church of Christ must never become tainted by an elder, who through acts of misconduct, falls into reproach and the snare of the devil. Without a good report of its elders, the effectiveness of a congregation of God's people dies.