Rev. Lubbers is a minister emeritus in the Protestant Reformed Churches.
“This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work. A bishop then must be blameless….”
A few introductory remarks are in order.
We are considering now what the sacred Scriptures say concerning the office of a bishop. In the first place, we notice that this office, that of a bishop, is limited to men only. We need not repeat. See our former lessons: Christian women are excluded. See I Timothy 2:2-15.
In the second place, we should notice that this office in its very nature is instituted for the New Testament church; it would never befit the church of God in the time of the Old Testament shadows. The Old Testament offices were also limited to men. The offices in the Temple were limited to the priests from the tribe of Levi.
The Office of an Overseer-Bishop (v. 1)
We must not think here that Paul refers to the Romish perversion of the office of bishop which erroneously is held to be the continuation of the apostolic office of Peter. According to the teaching of the Romish church, Peter, above all the other apostles, was vested with the keys of the kingdom of heaven. However, this key power was in reality vested in the words which the apostles would one and all speak (John 20:19-23). As we will presently notice, this office of a “bishop” is given to the teaching and ruling elders, as well as to the appointed deacon and his helper. It is, therefore, far better to understand this in the sense of the Greek word episcopus.
When the Holy Spirit writes in verse 2 that “a bishop then must be blameless,” this refers to all the common New Testament offices as we recognize them in the Reformed churches: ministers of the Gospel and ruling elders. Of these Paul speaks, and of none other, when he congratulates a man who desires this office. This office of “overseer” is a good work. In these offices the full and entire spiritual needs of the church of the living God are supplied.
Why are these denominated “good”?
These offices are good (kales) because they accomplished the wise and good design and wisdom of God. These are no mere inventions of men. They are gifts of God to the church. They are gifts from the exalted Christ (see Psalm 68:18; Eph. 4:7-16).
A matter can be ethically good (Matt. 19:16, 17). God is good, not merely because He is useful to a worthy end. He is good also in the implications of all ethical perfections. A tree can be good in that it serves the needs of the hungry; but that tree can also be good in that it is all it ought to be. There is a very beautiful nuance of Scripture in God’s account of the creation which He made. The great God created the heavens and the earth in the beginning. But He also created in it a beautiful design. On each creation day the Creator made a different part of the earthly creation. ReadGenesis 1:1-31. Notice how often we read: “and God saw that it was good.” The last occurrence of that expression is in fact this: “and God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.” The adjective here in the Hebrew is thob. Hebrew dictionaries give the meaning of thob to be: good, serving the Divine purpose.
Now, what is worth noticing? It is that the Septuagint translators write here, not agathos (ethically good, although men and angels were that) but kales. Each part of (the six-day creation fits in perfectly with the enhancement of the whole. All perfectly accord with the beautiful world-cosmos of God. It did so not only then but also ever afterwards in the ages to come: a new heaven and a new earth.
Yes, the offices of minister, elder, and deacon too fit perfectly. They accord perfectly with the image of God in man: prophet, king and priest.
The Good Office Requires a Blameless Man
We would aim far from the mark if we would confuse the spiritual reality and seek a sinless man. We say it reverently: Christ would defeat His own wise purpose were that the implication of “blameless.” The most holy of all the saints has but a “small beginning” of the new obedience. The truth of the matter is that to be blameless, as intended by the Holy Spirit in I Timothy 3:2, refers to our sins and faults as men and women judge of us. It is not as God judges our hearts. To this we will come in our next lesson.
We might at this point entertain the question why the great and glorious God calls weak humans, men with many faults and imperfections, to lofty tasks as He assigns them to this office of overseers. Calvin raises this heart-searching question in his Institutes of the Christian Religion. It is a great and worthy token of God’s wisdom. It requires a very humble heart to receive the word from men who are not without sin. God does not come to us to speak to us as He did at Sinai, does He? (See Ex. 20:18-20; Deut. 5:27; Deut. 18:15-17.) And does Paul not write in II Corinthians 4:1-7 that God uses weak vessels in order that the excellency of the power maybe of God and not of us?
Yet, preachers, elders, and deacons “must” be blameless. All officebearers must walk as becometh the Gospel. They must not walk in the oldness of the letter; but in the newness of the spirit they are to serve in God’s church (Rom. 7:5, 6).
b. Only as the husband of one wife can he be a solid father, a good example to his children. All polygamy is forbidden. He must reflect the mystery of marriage, the eternal picture of Christ and His church (Eph. 5:31-33).
c. A bishop, minister, elder, and deacon must have faithful children. They must not be riotous or unruly. The father must command respect as a sober man does.
e. Hence, of good behavior. He must be adorned with godliness as becometh a saint.
f. “Given to hospitality.” He must take care of the wayfaring stranger. (Compare Hebrews 13:2.) It might be that he would, be entertaining even angels unawares (Gen. 18:3; Gen. 19:2): Surely a minister must ever keep in mind that he too was once a stranger from the covenants and promises, without hope and without God in the world (Eph. 2:19-22).
g. “Apt to teach.” A bishop must not argue in word-strife, but he must ever teach all things which Christ has revealed. He must not hold back to preach the full counsel of God. Only thus will he be free from the blood of his hearers. He is not a lawyer, but he must have the heart of a preacher as one sent by the Ring of the church (Rom. 10:15; II Tim. 2:19-26). Thus he follows in the footsteps of Jesus (see Matt. 4:23-25).
h. A preacher must not be a stubborn, self-willed man (Tit. 1:7). He must ever remember that in God’s church he is as a preacher, a “steward of God.” The church is not the property of the officebearers; the church, the body of Christ, is the living temple of the living God. Stewards must know their place. Mere under-rowers they are. Under Christ they toil and labor in the Gospel of the glory of the blessed God. What happens to unfaithful stewards Jesus teaches us in Luke 16:2. The conduct of stewards is within the house of God. Yet, notwithstanding, he can do this because he has received not the spirit of cowardliness but of power and of love and of a sober mind (II Tim. 1:7).
i. Every preacher, elder, and deacon must know how to rule his own house well. The verb “to rule” in the Greek means “to be set over, to be set before” (see Rom. 12:8; I Tim. 3:4, 5, 12; I Tim. 5:17). The minister must have a model home in the midst of the congregation. It must be evident that, as he is faithful in leading, guiding, loving, and protecting his wife and children, God deems him also able to be a model servant in His church.
Finally, Paul writes very definitely, with apostolic authority, that the above list is not applicable to a “novice.” A novice is one who was recently gathered into the church – quite likely from heathendom. He is not spiritually matured, nor is he yet deeply rooted in the truth of the Gospel. He is unfit for the office, or at least not yet fit.
Paul writes, very soberly about this matter. The devil has not hoodwinked him. He knows the sins and weaknesses of young preachers. Satan knows his times and opportunities. He would bring into the church false and unsound doctrine, through the pulpit. He plays on the vanity of a young novice. A little learning is a dangerous thing. If even a Timothy needed the admonition not to depart from sound doctrine (I Tim. 1:18;I Tim. 6:20, 21; I Tim. 4:13-16; II Tim. 1:5-14, etc.), how much more do all “matured” men not need to be reminded of being fearless in the battle. We all need to be able, at the end of our ministry, to confess with Paul what he writes in II Timothy 4:6, 7, 8!
Paul does not write for nought the admonition which we find in I Timothy 5:22! O the torment of the “novice” who comes under the same judgment from God that befell the devil when in pride he fell from his “first estate” (Jude 6).
Moreover, a novice must have a good report. Even if he preaches and teaches good, sound doctrine, a novice must have a good report before unbelievers in the world. A novice must not become subjected to the reproach and ridicule of the unbelieving world. Then the preaching of the Gospel is evilly spoken of. Yes, the very name of God and his doctrine is blasphemed (I Tim. 6:1). Notice the jealousy of God for His Name, as this is to be honored by His people, and how the mouth of those who speak against the Gospel must be stopped (Tit. 1:6-11). See also Isaiah 52:5, 6; Romans 2:2, 22-29.