Desire the Office of Overseer

Chris King

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Paul warned the Elders of the church in Ephesus, “I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:29 ESV). These wolves were on the prowl when Timothy arrived in Ephesus. In 1 and 2 Timothy, false teachers had infiltrated the church. Timothy could counter their incursion by finding and appointing Godly Overseers.  Paul provides Timothy a list of attributes which must characterize the leaders in the church (1 Tim. 3:1-7). By finding and appointing faithful leaders, Timothy could protect the church from these enemies.

False teachers continue to threaten the church. Pastors and congregations must take seriously how they identify potential Overseers. Paul introduces his qualifications by writing, “The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task” (1 Timothy 3:1 ESV). This blog post will consider this first phrase in order to: 1. Understand the importance of desiring the office of Overseer, 2. Recognize it as a noble task, and 3. Provide a first step in answering the question, “How do you find faithful leaders for the church?”

A Passionate Desire For the Office of Overseer

Paul uses two different words to describe aspiration for the office of Overseer. The first word, “aspire” is the Greek word orego (ὀρέγω), which means “to stretch out and reach for something.” The word “desire” is epithymeo (ἐπιθυμέω), which is often translated “lust” in the NT. Here it describes a spiritually healthy longing. Paul’s use of this potent word highlights the strong desire that should characterize one seeking the office of Overseer.

Several pitfalls present themselves in considering desire for the office of Overseer. An important question would be, “Why do you desire the office of Overseer?” Men may desire the office for sinful reasons. An Overseer exercises authority in the church (1 Tim 3:5; 5:17). A man who desires to have authority to get his own way or fulfill his own agenda would damage the church. Peter recognizes this as a potential danger, and explains elders should be, “not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:3, ESV). John Chrysostom warns, “What is terrible is to desire the absolute authority and power of the bishop but not the work itself.” 

One may also wrongfully desire the office to seek their own honor. Jesus points out how the Pharisees, “Love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts.” (Luke 20:46). John describes Diotrephes as one who “likes to put himself first” (3 John 9), and therefore rejected the Apostle’s authority. Martin Luther writes, “I always see many of the sort who seize the office of teaching in contempt of all good works. They are looking for glory.” Desire can be a dangerous thing—it can easily be channeled in sinful directions.

In Acts 20, Paul makes an interesting statement about how church leaders become Overseers. He writes, “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers” (Acts 20:28). Here we see the Spirit’s divine working to make a man into an Overseer. Thus, being an Overseer in the church results from the divine work of God’s Spirit. Think about how these two different statements relate to the office of Overseer—The Holy Spirit makes men Overseers (Acts 20:28) and the passionate desire for the office (1 Tim 3:1). In comparing these two texts, one can conclude the desire for the office comes through the work of The Holy Spirit. A man may wonder, “Why am I passionately desiring the office of Overseer?” The answer may be, The Holy Spirit is performing His work of making you into an Overseer. Therefore, desiring to be an Overseer is not like a career choice—it’s a divine appointment.  

A Recognition of the Office as a Noble Task

I often think of this description of Pastoral Ministry from John MacArthur:

First of all I understand that this is a war, this is a struggle, this is a battle, this is an agonizing effort with an immense amount of energy expended. . . . This is a war, I don’t have a lot of expectations in war except that it’s going to be hard, it’s going to be sometimes depressing, it’s going to take every effort I have and there are going to be wounds in the process, that’s my view of ministry.

I do not expect to go flying through comfortable, having a happy time with everything going exactly right. If you take that expectation into the ministry, you’ll be a casualty because you can’t go dawdling around in the middle of a battlefield without getting shot fatally. This is war.

The warfare imagery provides a fitting and Biblical description of being a man of God (1 Tim 6:12).

Serving as an Overseer is painful, challenging, draining, and scarring. Watching over souls as men who will give an account presents us with a weighty responsibility (Hebrews 13:17). Any who become familiar with the Church and the Christian life will likely recognize these realities. This may dissuade some faithful and qualified men from desiring the office of Overseer. As we think about the office of Overseer, we must keep in the forefront of our mind that Paul describes it as, “A noble task” (1 Tim. 3:1 ESV). Struggling pastors should remember they are doing a noble work. Men considering the office should view this service as noble, despite the challenges.

Spurgeon emphasizes the nobility of being a preacher by writing, “No preacher should take lightly his inestimable privilege of proclaiming the saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether or not preachers are successful, achieve popularity, or fulfill their ambitions is immaterial. The satisfaction of having an eternal influence for Jesus Christ should be sufficient. The issue is not results but privilege. The disheartened preacher is disheartened because he focuses on circumstances; the joyful preacher is joyful because he focuses on the eternal worth of his service to God. The disheartened preacher considers his difficulties; the joyful preacher considers his privilege.” Recognizing the office of Overseer as a noble task helps us rightly view it as a privilege.

A First Step to Finding Faithful Leaders for the Church?

To follow Paul’s instructions, we should look for men who have a passionate desire for the office of Overseer. Those who hold this office shouldn’t be pressed into the service or compelled by others (1 Peter 5:2). They shouldn’t be wavering, halting, or faltering in their consideration of serving in this role. Rather, potential Overseers should be filled with zealous desire to fulfill a noble task. 

We should look for men who have a passionate desire for the office of Overseer.

We recognize the dangers of desire and should ask, “Why do you desire the office of Overseer?” We must seek to understand what fuels their desire—is it The Holy Spirit or selfish ambition? Are the seeking the office for themselves (their honor), or to serve others? Do they desire to exalt themselves in some way or to glorify God?   

Paul begins his “faithful saying” by noting the aspiration and desire to be an Overseer. This simply introduces the qualifications for the office. This should be a necessary first requirement—a burning desire for a noble task. We must understand, however, much more than desire is necessary to be fit for this service. Hence, we have the rest of the qualifications that must be carefully considered. Let us not overlook or ignore the importance of desiring this noble task.     

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Chris King

Senior Pastor Bayou View Baptist Church

Chris King serves as the Senior Pastor of Bayou View Baptist Church in Gulfport, Mississippi. He taught preaching for Boyce College Online from 2013-2020. Dr. King is a graduate of West Virginia University and earned his Ph. D. from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.