1 Timothy 3: Bishops, Overseers and Health Inspectors
1 Timothy 3:1
What has gone before...
Paul urged the church in Ephesus to pray for two essential things: peace and quiet. Building on this theme, he focused on women and their need to learn godliness, which includes the skill of submissiveness, not only for the women but also for men and children.
Biblical submissiveness is best defined as willing, joyful acceptance of God's sovereignty, protection and providence. A woman will live out their submissiveness to God by gladly allowing her husband to be the protector and provider of her family.
The process of learning the skills of godliness includes experiences of pain or loss, and for the woman, childbearing often provides just such an experience.
For men and women, learning is always an active demonstration of a skill or ability, and whether physically or spiritually.
"The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task." 1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV)
Now, Paul focuses on the fundamental problem facing the Ephesian church, the deep-rooted degradation of faith that probably led to unsubmissive hearts and swerving away from love.
Paul targets the leaders of the church.
OFFICE OF OVERSEER: episkope (inspection, for relief; superintendence, "episcopate"); from episkeptomai (to inspect, to select, to got to see, to relieve); from epi (superimposition of time, place, order; distribution over, upon; rest at, on; direction, towards, upon) and skeptomai (to peer about, "skeptic")
An "episcopate" is an organized group of bishops.
"Bishop" is from the Anglo Saxon word, "bisceop or "biscop", meaning an inspector.
"Office of overseer" literally means one who is appointed or called to be an inspector, one who looks closely, essentially to bring relief from harm or weakness by close observation.
The first instance of this word in the New Testament is in Luke's gospel, in the description of Jesus weeping over Jerusalem:
"When he [Jesus] drew near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, - Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation." Luke 19:41-44 (ESV)
"Visitation" is the same Greek word that is later translated as "office of overseer".
Jesus wept over the future sad condition of Jerusalem, when it would be barricaded and surrounded, torn down to the ground, and its beautiful temple of worship razed.
This depressing, despairing future for Jerusalem would result from the Jews failure to recognize Jesus as the Provider of "the things that make for peace". Jesus was "visiting" Jerusalem as a "health inspector", One appointed to make sure that the people had all that they required for their spiritual health and happiness.
And they were blind to their deep spiritual needs.
They rejected Jesus as their "health inspector". They used the temple as a shopping mall, allowing mobsters to run the businesses (Luke 19:46).
They sent spies to watch Him, hoping to catch incriminating statements. They laid crafty traps and attempted to snare Him in criminal controversy (Luke 20:19-20).
They commanded Him to tell only the truth, and when He did, they rejected His words and judged Him a blasphemer (Luke 22:67-71).
Jesus inspected His people, and observed their weakness and disease, yet they would have none of Him.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What has been your experience in being "inspected" by Jesus? What is the risk, and the reward, of asking God's Holy Spirit to examine your heart and mind? What verses of Scripture come to mind that support the truth that God "inspects" His people, and that "inspection" is good and entirely necessary?
It seems likely that the first "episcopate", or group of bishops, were the apostles called by Jesus.
"In these days he went out to the mountain to pray, and all night he continued in prayer to God. And when day came, he called his disciples and chose from them twelve, whom he named apostles: Simon, whom he named Peter, and Andrew his brother, and James and John, and Philip, and Bartholomew, and Matthew, and Thomas, and James the son of Alphaeus, and Simon who was called the Zealot, and Judas the son of James, and Judas Iscariot, who became a traitor." Luke 6:12-16 (ESV)
The deceptive betrayal of Jesus by Judas Iscariot created an empty seat in the "episcopate". Peter believed that the Book of Psalms spoke prophetically of the betrayal and the need to appoint another in the place of Judas:
"For it is written in the Book of Psalms, - May his camp become desolate, and let there be no one to dwell in it; - and - Let another take his office." Acts 1:20 (ESV)
"Office" is the same word as "overseer".
Peter was referring to a psalm written by David, describing his anger and frustration for "wicked and deceitful mouths, speaking against me with lying tongues" (Psalms 109:2).
"They reward me evil for good, and hatred for my love. Appoint a wicked man against him; let an accuser stand at his right hand. When he is tried, let him come forth guilty; let his prayer be counted as sin! May his days be few; may another take his office!" Psalms 109:5-8 (ESV)
OFFICE: pequdda (visitation, often official); from paqad (to visit, with friendly or hostile intent; to oversee, muster, charge, care for, miss, deposit)
People appointed to guard duty were described as having "custody", using the same word as that of "office" (Numbers 3:36).
Priests having charge of the holy oil, incense, offerings, and all to do with the tabernacle were described as having an "office" and "oversight", both the same word (Numbers 4:16).
Moses challenged those who doubted him to a test of faith. Confronting a group of rebels, Moses predicted their imminent death:
"Hereby you shall know that the Lord has sent me to do all these works, and that it has not been of my own accord. If these men die as all men die, or if they are visited by the fate of all mankind, then the Lord has not sent me. But if the Lord creates something new, and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that belongs to them, and they go down alive into Sheol, then you shall know that these men have despised the Lord." Numbers 16:28-30 (ESV)
"Visited" is the same word as "office". Typically, humans die of disease or man-caused accident or violence. The "normal" manner of death can be described as the human fate or "visitation".
The Hebrew equivalent of the Greek word for "office" or "visitation" means anything to which someone may be appointed or assigned. Combining the meanings implies that "the office of overseer" means an apppointment made by others, requiring the "officer" to supervise closely, to inspect diligently, for the purpose of protection from harm or pain.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul speaks of "aspiring" and "desiring" the office of overseer, yet the word for "office" implies being appointed. We often appoint people to a committee or task, without requiring them to "aspire" or "desire", but simply that they are willing to do it. Is that okay? What risks are involved in appointing someone who passionately desires the office?
ASPIRES: orego (to stretch oneself, to reach out after, to long for); apparently from oro (to rise or "rear")
DESIRES: epithymeo (to set the heart upon; to long for, rightfully or otherwise); from epi epi (superimposition of time, place, order; distribution over, upon; rest at, on; direction, towards, upon) and thymos (passion, as if breathing hard); from thuo (to rush, breathe hard, blow, smoke; to sacrifice, immolate or slaughter for any purpose)
"Aspires" can be positive or negative. Paul will later rebuke Christians for "aspiring" after money (1 Timothy 6:10). However, he also commends Christians for "aspiring" toward heaven (Hebrews 11:16).
"Desires" is also dependent upon the object desired. Jesus rebuked those who "desire" adultery (Matthew 5;28). Yet, Jesus also "desired" greatly to celebrate passover with His apostles (Luke 22:15). We are commanded not to "desire" (Romans 13:9). Yet it is a good thing if we "desire" the office of overseer (1 Timothy 3:1).
"Desire", "covet", "aspire" and "lust" are all words meaning the same thing: my heart and mind are completely convinced that a thing is good, with a promise of pleasure if I were to possess it, and I reach out for it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK? What are the indications that we are "desiring" or "coveting" or "apiriring" or "lusting" for something? How is "aspiring" different than "accepting" or "tolerating"? What things in life is it absolutely essential that we deeply and intensely feel a desire or aspiration for? How does lukewarmness or apathy frustrate you personally?
Paul describes the office of overseer as a "noble task":
NOBLE TASK: kalos (beautifully good, valuable or virtuous for appearance or use) and ergon (toil, as an effort or occupation; an act); from ergo (to work)
"Noble" means good, in a sense that is related to its appearance or function. The word is used in the New Testament to describe fruit, seed, pearls, salt and fish. It is also used to describe events or conditions places and people.
The common element of usage for this word is its appearance or function. The "beautiful goodness" of a thing is outwardly, immediately apparent. It's usefulness is plain to see.
Paul describes the office of overseer as something that is "beautifully good", something pleasing to look at or functional to use.
The same word is found just a few verses later, describing a character quality essential for all overseers:
"He must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil." 1 Timothy 3:7 (ESV)
"Well thought of" includes the same Greek word as that of "noble task". An overseer for the church must have a "beautifully good" reputation with the community...their actions must be pleasing to see or functionally useful.
Those who exercise their office well will gain a "beautifully good" step of faith or an outwardly pleasing appearance of their faith (1 Timothy 3:13).
Paul assures Timothy that his ministry in Ephesus will be "beautifully good" as long as he diligently exhorts the people in faith and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:6).
WHAT DO YOU THINK? When have you experienced an example of a "beautifully good" overseer, whether inside or outside of church? Can you describe the "perfect" leader of a church, one who would be "beautifully good"? Do you desire to serve in our church as a spiritual "health inspector"? Why or why not?