1 Timothy 3:2-3 Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.
The Apostle Paul is giving instructions to his young apprentice, Timothy, about the care he must exercise in appointing people to positions of responsibility and leadership within the Church. The term ‘overseer’ is almost a literal translation of the Greek word, ‘episkopos’ (‘epi’=‘upon/over’, ‘skopos’=‘watcher/seer’). In my own denomination, we take this to be an ‘elder’ (‘presbyteros’, cf Acts 20 where Paul calls together the ‘elders’ of the Church at Ephesus – verse 17 – and addresses them as ‘overseers’ – verse 28).
But while the qualifications he lists are especially important for these people in particular ‘offices’, these qualities should always be present in anyone who is entrusted with some degree of leadership of others. In 2 Corinthians, Paul refers to every follower of Jesus as an ‘ambassador’ of Christ (5:17-20), and the task of an ‘ambassador’ is to represent his own governing authority faithfully and well while living in a ‘foreign’ jurisdiction.
Every Christian is primarily a ‘citizen of heaven’ (Philippians 3:20), while living in alien territory as a ‘citizen’ of the world (cf 1 Peter 2:11). All this is particularly applicable to God’s people today in our society where there is so much open expression of intemperate, violent behaviour, sadly and especially prevalent as domestic violence, fuelled by lack of self-control, misuse of alcohol and the narcissistic pursuit of wealth and power over others, too often even those they have vowed ’to love and to cherish till death do us part’!
Because of our common innate sinful nature, every society, left to its own devices, is prone to the same depravity, so it is not surprising that Paul will go on to say to Timothy that representatives of Jesus should ‘manage [their] own family well’ (verse 4)! How important it is that we all give careful attention to these things today when it is so easy to be subtly and unwittingly influenced by, and drawn into, the ‘norms’ of our surrounding culture. It is good to remember that Jesus calls his followers to take the lead and act as ‘salt’ and ‘light’ in the world. Paul puts it like this: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2a). Would our work colleagues, our fellow students, our fellow-worshippers and our close family members, always identify us as obvious ‘ambassadors of Christ’?