The Holy Spirit reveals special “qualifications,” in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1, that men must display in order to shepherd. Too often, we reduce these to a series of boxes to check. I suggest we call them “qualities,” because they tell us a lot about the work of the shepherds.
These qualities are not unachievable. In fact, there are no qualities of a shepherd that aren’t also required of every Christian! A shepherd is one who has diligently submitted to the will of Christ and prioritized his life in pursuit of these virtues. Some of them require time and effort to develop, as well as cooperation from family and encouragement from brethren.
1 Tim. 3:1, “If any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.” Even though this is technically an introduction to the list, this has often been described as the first qualification: he must desire the work!
That makes sense, I suppose. But too many use it as an excuse: “I don’t really want to be an elder, so I’m not qualified.” I don’t buy that. All Christian men with families and leadership potential should aspire to serve God in this way (Rom. 12:8). Lack of leadership is perhaps the greatest challenge facing the church today.
3:2, He must be “above reproach.” Some translations give “blameless” but this can leave the wrong impression. No Christian is flawless (1 John 1:8). This word means literally “cannot be laid hold of.” It refers to one who is an excellent example. He has made mistakes—in fact, how one deals with his mistakes is part of a good Christian example. But he permits in his life no sins that threaten or hamper his ability to lead. He must not have a weakness that he continues to give in to, jeopardizing the image of the church and his respect in the eyes of the brethren.
3:2, He must be “the husband of one wife.” There is some disagreement about applying this term. The Greek phrase is mias gunaikos andra, literally “a one-woman man.” But most Greek dictionaries say that the phrase means “faithful to his wife.”
There is no question that a man who would serve as an example to the flock must prove himself to be capable of loving, nurturing, and leading his own wife. At times, members will approach him for advice in dealing with their own marriage issues.
Some argue that this phrase requires an elder to step down if his wife dies. After all, he is now a husband of no wife. But this makes little sense, both in regard to the qualities required for an elder, and the meaning of the phrase. Consider: in 1 Tim. 5:9, the exact same Greek phrase is used, just with a reversed gender. Paul declares that a widow can be permanently supported by the church only if she is “the wife of one man.” In Greek this is henos andros gune, literally, “a one-man woman” (I know it looks different than mias gunaikos andra, but mias and henos are two forms of the same word “one”). Obviously, as a widow, her husband would have died; but the phrase “the wife of one man” still accurately describes her. Thus, mias gunaikos andra, “a one-woman man” would still accurately describe an elder who was faithful to his wife though she has now died.
A harder question is whether a man who divorced his wife for the cause of adultery and remarried would be qualified. Some say he is technically a “two-woman man.” This makes little sense to me upon deeper examination. He is “faithful to his wife,” which, again, seems to be the real meaning of the phrase in context. I can’t see God having a qualification for an elder that is stricter than he has for a Christian. Perhaps each case requires a closer look. If the man had a right to remarry, then he had a right to remarry! If not, then there are other problems besides being shut out of the eldership.
Young men, I can safely advise you to have this conversation with your fiancée early. Choose someone who will remain faithful to you because she is faithful to Christ. Work to nourish and cherish your wife, so that she will not be tempted to find emotional or physical fulfillment in others. Persevere through the storms of married life. It is a powerful example to the church when you celebrate your fortieth anniversary. —John Guzzetta