In 1 Timothy 3, Paul famously lays out for us the qualifications of an elder and a deacon. These qualifications, for the most part, are observable behaviors by which we can discern if one is ready and worthy for church leadership. The word “overseer” (ESV) can also be translated as “elder” or “bishop” in some texts. It points to one who can teach in the church and provide overall leadership for the church. Timothy was commissioned by Paul to oversee the house churches of Ephesus, and this would require appointing spiritual leaders who could provide ongoing leadership for each of them. We know from chapter one that part of the challenge was the existence of some false teachers who had arisen from within the church. The necessary spiritual leadership for each of these house churches would require men of great character to tackle the daily challenges.
But I want to focus on Paul’s opening statement as a overall charge to this spiritual leadership. In verse 1 Paul says, The saying is trustworthy. If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. This hints at the notion that maybe the office was not seen with the greatest of reputation. In Paul’s day, this office could certainly be accompanied by hardships and even persecution. Even today, the role of pastor or elder may not be seen with the same esteem that was once true in our society. Notice the verbs–if anyone aspires . . . he desires. The meaning behind “to aspire” is to eagerly long for something or to strive to attain something. To “desire” something was to stretch oneself forward to grasp. Both of these words show that the office of overseer or elder was one that should be voluntary. No one should be dragged into the task. But they should willingly want to be considered. This is differentiated from blind ambition by the qualifications that follow. One cannot selfishly have ambition to lead and fulfill the observable behaviors that follow. The bottom line is that men should desire to be spiritual leaders who are qualified to help lead the church.
Finally, notice too that a clear emphasis is on the “work.” Paul states that this is a “noble task.” This is a work that should be favorably valued, but it is hard work none the less. I had the privilege of serving as an elder in a large church for four years. It was challenging, humbling . . . and it was hard work. There were seasons of great teaching and church discipline. There were very long board meetings about weighty issues and there were glorious moments of seeing lives transformed. But make no mistake, it took much mental, emotional, spiritual and physical energy to serve in that capacity. Know that what you should “aspire to desire” is highly valuable and is a difficult task. It does not require someone who is perfect but it does requires growing godly character and skill. This is a worthy challenge and we should aspire to it!