THE APOSTLE PAUL BEGINS THE LIST OF QUALIFICATIONS FOR AN ELDER WITH A GENERAL REQUIREMENT, FOLLOWED BY SPECIFIC AREAS IN WHICH THE OVERSEER MUST BE “BLAMELESS.”
In Scripture the word “overseer” refers to both ruling and teaching elders. In other words, the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 (KJV) apply to ministers of the Word as well as to the other elders who shepherd the flock under their care. The word “must” means that these qualifications are essential; they are not helpful guidelines. All of these qualifications are mandatory. They are requirements which God has established for the office of elder in His church. No man may be an elder in God’s church unless he meets all these qualifications. We confess that Christ is Head of the church. This means that the rules for the church which Christ sets down in His Word must be followed. It is the church’s God-given duty to keep all unqualified men from becoming ruling and teaching elders. Should a man already in office show himself to be unqualified for the position, the church must be diligent in removing him from that office. In so doing, the church will uphold the honor of Christ and insure that the church is edified unto greater peace, purity, and unity.
By “blameless,” the Scripture does not mean that a man must be sinless to be an overseer in the church of God. To be blameless is to be irreproachable. To be blameless does not mean that one is able to evade accusation or conviction. Rather, a man is blameless or above reproach when his words and conduct conform to the holy commandments of God in Scripture so that he cannot justly be accused or convicted of any sin. No one should be able to lay a charge against an overseer and make it stick.
The Scripture says that Job was “blameless and upright, one who feared God and shunned evil” (Job 1:1). The people of God should be able to say the same about every elder in the church. The overseer’s reputation should be above reproach. An overseer must have and maintain a good name. There should be no question as to his integrity or upright character.
John Calvin explains it this way: An elder “ought not to be marked by any disgrace that would detract from his authority. There will certainly not be found a man who is free from every fault, but it is one thing to be burdened with ordinary faults that do not hurt a man’s reputation, because the most excellent men share them, but quite another to have a name that is held in infamy and besmirched by some scandalous disgrace. Thus, in order that the bishops may not lack authority, he gives charge that those who are chosen should be of good and honorable reputation, and free of any extraordinary fault. Also, he is not merely directing Timothy as to the sort of men he should choose, but he is reminding all who aspire to the office that they should carefully examine their own life.”1
1. Every minister of the Word and every ruling elder must be a man of mature character and integrity before God and men so that he is irreproachable.
2. Only a man of such maturity, character, and integrity can be a godly example to those under his care in word, conduct, love, spirit, faith, and purity (see 1 Tim. 5:12).
3. Any man who has an uncleared stain upon his character or does not live a consistent, godly life does not meet this qualification and should not be an elder.
4. A man in the office of elder whose character and reputation are not above reproach, or whose authority is undermined by a recurring pattern of sinful behavior in his life, ought to be removed from office.
1 Commentary on 1 Timothy 3:2.
General Conference Ministerial Association