The Desire for Ordination

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task.”  

- 1 Timothy 3:1

To finish our look at 1 Timothy 2:15, we will examine the various ways Scripture speaks of salvation. As a synonym for justification, the once-for-all declaration that we are righteous in Christ, salvation can describe a past event — “by grace you have been saved” (Eph. 2:5). But salvation can also summarize the whole package of regeneration, justification, sanctification, and glorification. Thus, it can also be ongoing since sanctification (growth in holiness) continues until we die — we “work out” our salvation (Phil. 2:12–13). Paul seems to use saved this way in 1 Timothy 2:15. Women cannot be elders, so pursuing this office hinders their spiritual growth (vv. 12–14). Instead, motherhood is their primary calling (v. 15). In raising godly offspring and overcoming the stigma of Eve, women obey the apostolic word and are sanctified. The key point is that men and women alike mature in Christ as they follow God’s guidelines for their gender, for many women are not mothers and many men are not elders.

It takes more than just being a male Christian to be an elder, as Paul begins to reveal in 1 Timothy 3:1. First, note that the term overseer here does not translate presbyteros, the normal Greek word for elder, but episkopos, from which we also get the term episcopal. An episcopal form of church government puts final decision-making for one or more geographic areas into one overseer’s hands. The terms episkopos and presbyteros are actually used of the same office in 1 Timothy 3:2 and 5:17 and in Titus 1:5, 7, and the Bible pictures a council or session of several episkopoi or presbyteroi governing each local church (Acts 20:17). John Calvin says the word bishop [overseer] is merely another title for a minister, pastor, or elder.

Paul calls the work of an elder a “noble task,” probably for several reasons. In the early church, being an elder made a man a more visible Christian and more apt to be persecuted. A reminder of the nobility of eldership could assuage any fears a man might have about being ordained. More importantly, elders shepherd the flock of the Lord, leading them in the way of salvation through prayer, teaching, and counsel (1 Peter 5:1–3). What could be more noble than that?  

Coram Deo

John Chrysostom notes that in wanting the office of elder “what is terrible is to desire the absolute authority and power of the bishop but not the work itself” (Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, NT vol. 9, p. 168; hereafter ACCNT). Men who desire to be ordained need to take care that they are not craving power for power’s sake. Decision-makers in the church should likewise watch out for this when they gather to call a new pastor.

Passages for Further Study

Deut. 17:8–13
Prov. 11:14; 15:22; 24:5–6
Acts 14:19–23

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