“The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task”
1 Timothy 3:1 (ESV)
The whole New Testament is right, true, and faithful. Some things are highlighted because they are foundational or especially applicable for the intended audience. And some statements or principles may not seem quite right on first hearing, or they may even be questioned as to whether they are true by some. We are talking about five statements that Paul, when writing to Timothy and Titus, calls “faithful sayings” or “trustworthy.”
The first faithful saying is: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Ti 1:15). It isn’t surprising to highlight this since salvation of sinners by Jesus is the theme of the gospel. The second faithful saying is: “If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Ti 3:1 ESV). Of all the sayings, this is probably an unexpected one to highlight. Let’s look at it more closely.
The Second Faithful Saying…
The second of five faithful sayings appears in 1 Timothy 3:1: “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer he desires a noble task” (ESV).
Let’s think carefully about this faithful saying…
Overseer or bishop…
Let’s jump slightly ahead and define the primary object of this trustworthy saying: “one who aspires to the office of overseer”. The word “overseer” is also sometimes translated “bishop.” Bishop is an acceptable word, but we tend not to use it very much because of its frequent misuse in the current religious world. But the original word can be translated either “overseer” or “bishop.”
When you keep reading in 1 Timothy three, you’ll notice the necessary qualities of church overseers. We often call these the qualifications of elders, however the word “overseer” is used, not “elders”. Are bishops and elders the same thing? Yes, they are the same men whose work is being described in different ways. We know this because of verses like 1 Peter 5:1-2:
The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly
Three different words describe the same leadership role in the church in these verses: “elders,” “Shepherd,” and “overseers.” They are different aspects of the same men and their work. We have the habit of calling these men “elders,” but they are shepherds and overseers too. It’s also interesting that the original word for “shepherd” can be also translated “pastor” (but that’s probably another article!). It is important to see that none of these are titles – they are descriptors of the men or the work and serving that they do. Maybe, on your own, you can take a few minutes to think about ways that elders, shepherds, and overseers describe well the men and the serving they are to do among us.
Aspire and desire…
This faithful saying is highlighting aspiring (desiring – NKJV) being an overseer. Why does Paul have to stress this?
First, men who fit the descriptions of 1 Timothy three and Titus 1 may be humbly reluctant to think of themselves (or have others think of them) as overseers in Christ’s church. They are reminded that this is a good thing to desire! And it should be encouraged in our younger men to aspire to also!
Second, there may be accusations that desiring or being an overseer is some kind of power grab or control move. Men need to be reminded that being an overseer is not about power, and churches need to be reminded too. When done right by the right men, being an overseer is a “noble task” (ESV, NIV), “a fine work” (NASB), “a good work” (NKJV).
Third, because it is work, some men may not want to take it on. Some have seen overseers burn out with the stress or even face attacks on their leading. Hebrews 13:17 says they are “keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give account” (ESV). Overseers take this very seriously. For these reasons they need to be encouraged and reminded that it is a “noble task,” “a good work”. We need men to commit to this work and for churches to value it.
The saying is trustworthy…
We would expect that these “trustworthy” or “faithful” sayings are fundamental to our faith. We saw that the first one (Jesus came to save sinners) truly is. But what if this one is as well? What if having good, strong, faithful overseers is something Jesus put in place to help keep us focused on Him! He asks men to aspire to be overseers. Churches are to choose men who He describes to be their overseers. And it will accomplish good in Christ’s church – noble tasks, good work. We know it will because it’s a trustworthy saying. We believe those sayings. We accept those. We obey those. They are certainly true and we will make them part of our faith and life as followers of Christ.